Compelling Arguments Need Better Documentation. This is another of those nonfiction tales that uses a singular case as its overall narrative structure, but also looks to several other cases and events related to the overall thesis of the text. The overarching case is a brutal murder out of 1980s Washington DC where several black kids where wrongfully convicted of a murder they could not have committed, and where police and prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence that resulted in these kids spending decades behind bars. Dybdahl then expands out to show that while this case was particularly egregious, it is also far from uncommon. Indeed, it is almost banal in just how common the abuses at hand truly are, causing one (later disgraced for unrelated reasons) judge to even call it an “epidemic” within the last decade prior to publication of this book!
The problems here are related yet distinct enough to my mind to warrant a two star deduction. The first star is lost due to the small bibliography, something that could potentially be corrected prior to actual publication of this book roughly three months after I sit to write this review of this advanced reader copy. Coming in at just about 15% of the overall text, this is short of the 20% – 33% that is more normal for works such as this one, and well short of the 40% – 50% that I *prefer* to see in such texts.
The second star is lost specifically because the claims herein are not as well documented as they need to be to make these points something that opponents cannot simply dismiss.
Make no mistake – I actually have been following this general issue (though not the specific cases at hand) for quite some time and nearly completely agree with the author’s points and recommendations. But as the author points out often, there is quite considerable opposition to these ideas in the minds and actions of the very people who could most correct these injustices – and the only way to really be able to attempt to convince such opposition of our correctness is to more fully document our case. Thus, I always appreciate books such as this one – I simply need it to be much more documented. Still, for the ideas it presents and how it actually presents them, this is still a book that needs to be read by every American. Thus, it is very much recommended.
This review of When Innocence Is Not Enough by Thomas L. Dybdahl was originally written on October 21, 2022.
Interesting Memoir From A First Time Candidate. This is a memoir from a long time business executive who decided to make his very first (and so far only, according to the text here) campaign for public office be to seek to replace outgoing Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner when Boehner announced his resignation in 2015. Spurlino speaks with candor about what was going on when he heard the announcement, what he was looking for in a candidate, and, when he didn’t see any of that… what influenced him to run in the first place. The rest of the book is largely a deep dive into what running for US Congress is really like, from an “everyman” (ish) perspective, and through this section Spurlino shows himself to be fairly well read and reasoned, as well as very approachable. The last section of the book is a bit of a lessons learned/ future proposals look, and through this section in particular Spurlino truly shines in speaking out against the more popular populist positions of the day, including expanding the Supreme Court (he says to expand Congress instead), eliminating the Electoral College (not going to happen), and general Congressional reforms. Overall a very easy to read and short-ish at under 300 pages real-world look into what really goes on in our Congressional electoral processes in the United States, and therefore very much recommended.
This review of Losing Our Elections by Jim Spurlino was originally written on October 18, 2022.
An Interesting Proposal. Bakken is a clearly knowledgeable and frequent writer of this field, and I’m certainly far from being anywhere near his level – so I’ll not directly debate his points in this review. Instead, this is absolutely a book that I think anyone who is interested in reforming the American legal system should read and consider. While I personally don’t think I would go as far in those reforms as Bakken thinks is necessary, I do agree with him that there needs to be better ways for wrongly convicted genuinely innocent people to reverse their convictions in a timely manner. Overall this is a well documented and seemingly strong argument for his position, and one that is fairly easily approachable even as a non-expert (though college educated) reader. Very much recommended.
This review of The Plea Of Innocence by Tim Bakken was originally written on July 15, 2022.
Current (420 Day 2022) Description Inaccurate. Read As Memoir. If you go into this book expecting what the current description claims the book is – a take down of all drug laws by a lawyer who knows them well – ummm…. you’re going to be severely disappointed. As pretty well every review earlier than my own notes. If you go into this more as a memoir with some generalized points about why legalization of all drugs would make for a more just world – with scant documentation, accounting for only 10% of the ARC text -… you’ll be more satisfied with this book than had you believed the current description. The text here is truly more about Margolin and her parents – her dad being one of the more famous/ infamous drug criminal defense lawyers in the US – than any other central issue, though the drugs Margolin uses and she and her dad defend others using in court are never far away. Overall, this is more of a primer text for those who may not be familiar with many of the complete legalization arguments to see how they play out in the life and mind of one particular LA-based drug lawyer. If you’re looking for a more detailed examination of the arguments and their pros and cons… this isn’t that text. Still, for what it is this is a worthy read that can at least add a degree of nuance to the overall conversation, and for this it is recommended.
This review of Just Dope by Allison Margolin was originally written on April 20, 2022.
Avowed Anti-Capitalist Screed Still Highlights All Too Real Issues. And these issues absolutely need to be more openly discussed. If you dismiss the blinders to anything other than the set premise and worldview the author comes to this research with and look at the points he raises instead, this is a solid examination of at least some of the ways the central Appalachia region of (primarily) Kentucky / (some) West Virginia / (some) Virginia has transformed from being driven by a coal economy to now being driven by a prison economy – largely on much of the exact same land. With a bibliography clocking in at 38% of the ARC I read *even with* the author conducting much of the research and interviews himself, the scholarship within his worldview is largely beyond contestation. This truly is one of the most well documented ARCs I’ve come across in nearly 800 books (across all genres, fiction and nonfiction). Ultimately the star deduction here was because the author never leaves his particular biases to even make strawmen of opposing views, much less actually examine whether they may explain the issues at hand better than his own views do. Still, for what it is, this truly is a remarkable text that covers a particular topic that few others do. Very much recommended.
This review of Coal Cages Crisis by Judah Schept was originally written on April 16, 2022.
In The Vein Of Michelle Alexander’s A New Jim Crowe. This is one where ultimately your opinion of it will be largely based on whether you agree with Ms. Roberts’ Critical Race Theory based worldview. Honestly, had I known she was a CRT adherent, I personally would not have picked up this book to begin with – as I’ve avoided several others by known CRT adherents that otherwise sounded interesting. As with other CRT writers, Ms. Roberts begins with a set theory in mind and ignores any other possible explanations of the issues she examines, which is the overall Theory’s critical flaw. All of this noted, *within this frame*, Ms. Roberts actually does a pretty solid job of making her case, and the issues she speaks to even within this frame raise many points that need to be in the overall conversation of reform in America. She even gives lip service at times to the fact that many of these issues are more related to poverty and economic status than race, but even within these remarks she ultimately declares that white people always have it so much easier. Within the realm of CRT and social “science”, the scholarship here is pretty standard – nothing overly remarkable either way, good or bad. And even objectively, the bibliography clocks in at around 24%, which is fairly standard for most nonfiction tales and is actually quite good for works where the author bases much of their commentary on their own experiences and interviews they directly conducted. So read the book, whether you agree with CRT or not, because there *is* enough here to justify wading through that particular detritus. And if you *do* agree with CRT, you’re likely going to be shouting from the rooftops about how amazing this book is. Recommended.
This review of Torn Apart by Dorothy Roberts was originally written on March 16, 2022.
Just Another Dogmatic Diatribe. With a title and premise like this, I truly had high hopes for this book. I should learn to not have such high hopes for such books, given that they almost always are utter disappointments, and this one is no exception to that generality. It raises some good points, particularly as they relate to ballot access and the nature of the duopoly system of government we have in the US. But beyond that this truly is just another dogmatic diatribe, this one from self-professed “moderates” that are actually anything but. It ends with an “altar call” urging *you* to act and donate your money, even as the authors sit back comfortably writing books and being “activists” rather than actually putting their own names on the ballot to try to achieve their stated goals. They want *you* to take the heat in running for office… even as they don’t have the guts. So take it from someone who *has* run for office, twice. Read this book, as it genuinely does have a couple of good ideas. But read it with a boulder of salt, because the authors aren’t brave enough to get in the fire themselves, and it is only within the fire that you truly see your ideas in action. Recommended.
This review of The Politics Industry by Katherine Gehl was originally written on March 26, 2020.