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Just Mercy -A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

February 20th, 2017 — 2:56pm

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I must admit that when I started this book, I was not in favor of the death penalty, mainly because I felt there might be some isolated cases where someone might be executed when they were innocent and actually did not commit premeditated murder. Now after having read this eye-opening excellent book. I am strongly against the death penalty for many reasons. I have a much more enlightened view of the criminal justice system in the United States and the tremendous injustices brought about by mass incarceration particularly in the south, to blacks and also to children who are often tried and sentenced as if they were grown adults. I had no idea of the miscarriages of justice that occur in this country.

The person I have to thank for this new valuable insight is the author of this book, Bryan Stevenson. Through his writing, I learned how as a Harvard law student, he volunteered to assist a small group working in Alabama to appeal death sentences of of prisoners on death row. His interest in this work led him to devote his career to working in this area and ultimately founding the Equal Justice Institute in Alabama. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.

In this book, Stevenson allows the reader to understand in great detail how in many cases, clearly innocent people were railroaded through the criminal justice system to a guilty and death penalty sentence. Improper jury selection, failure of defense lawyers to bring in witnesses or important exculpatory evidence, prosecutors who hid important evidence from the defense and judges making improper rulings were just some of the factors which put innocent people on death row. There also were numerous examples of people being sentenced to death in prison (meaning a life sentence) often for non-homicidal crimes. There also was a description of the treatment of children to the same fate. Many of these teenage kids, sometimes 13 years old, were clearly innocent or were only peripherally involved in a non-homicidal crime but nevertheless were sentenced to death in prison via a life sentence. The predominance of these injustices occurred in southern states mainly to blacks which revealed this phenomenon as an extension of slavery in this country. Speaking of slavery, I could not believe the forced coercion that occurred in many prisons which was clearly cruel and unfair. Any failure of these prisoners to participate in such activities which might be picking cotton or operating sometimes dangerous machinery for long hours could lead to very uncomfortable solitary confinement as well as beatings and other violent attacks.

It is one thing to discuss all this issues with statistics and general statements which were then documented. In fact, seven and a half percent of this book was made up of documented lawyer-like references or citations to substantiate the terrible injustices described. However, it is even more effective when the author goes into great detail describing the history of real people whose lives are destroyed by unfair imprisonment and horrendous treatment. Mr. Stevenson’s personal interaction with many of these prisoners brings them to life in the pages of this book and makes a need to improve our justice system all the more imperative. It is also easy to empathize with his feelings not only for the innocent unfairly treated adults and children, but even those who were guilty of crimes and may deserve some punishment but also deserve our mercy.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, O - Other - Specify, P - Political

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman -Guest Review by Lucy Blumenfield – 12 Years Old

June 17th, 2013 — 7:32pm

MausMaus I & II- by Art Spiegelman Reviewed by Lucy Blumenfield (Age 12) – Although there are other books that tell the tale of the Holocaust through a survivor’s perspective, this book is unique. It is the story, and it is true, about a man—Art Spiegelman, the author—who interviews his father—Vladek Spiegelman to preserve his story of the Holocaust, and illustrating this story in the form of a graphic book. Spiegelman uses animals to express the way different groups of people in this book might act. For example, he uses mice as the Jews, cats as the Germans, and pigs for this Poles. This really intensified the book because it kind of showed you who someone was and also made a political statement in my view. Spiegelman’s illustrations make this haunting story come to life as he tells about his father’s struggles: first hiding in house to house with his wife, trying to escape Poland, and finally being captured and put into Auschwitz, and after ten months being freed and reuniting with his wife. The book changes back between Art’s visits to his not-in-great-shape father in Rego Park, and his father’s experiences told by Vladek.

This book was a unique experience because I have not seen history told by graphic novels before. However, it was an experience that I want more of! It was informative, captivating, humorous in parts, moving, and—at times—heart breaking. I highly recommend this book to everyone, from adults to children because it gives you an insight to the horrifying experiences of the Holocaust in a whole new way.

1 comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH by Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine

April 5th, 2013 — 12:17am

The Way of BaseballThe Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH by Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine – About 10 days ago this book arrived in the mail from Amazon addressed to me but without any information who sent to me. Perhaps my benefactor thought I would enjoy it because it is written by an outstanding baseball player who happened to be Jewish (and at one point compared himself to Sandy Koufax) or because the author has written about his own psychology of baseball and living. In any case I read the book and thought it was somewhat interesting although quite repetitive. It is a relatively small book about 5×8 inches  a little more than 200 pages. I did learn something from the author’s experience and philosophy but it might been more efficiently packaged in magazine article or a ½ hour interview of the author  by Charlie Rose or maybe even better by Bob Costas. When Green hit the big leagues as a young man and ran into a batting slump, he figured out the secret to being a successful hitter and according to him this approach was also the secret to living life. He found out how to “ bring stillness into the flow of life” He mastered the ability to focus on the moment and allow all other thoughts especially those involved with his “ ego “, competitiveness, narcissism etc to fade into the background and ultimately disappear. Any one who has dabbled in or has mastered meditation or the  art of Zen will know very well what this is about. Green started with just hitting balls on a batting tee over and over again with no concern about his usual opponent – that major league pitcher who would be  facing him down. He often would do this exercise to near exhaustion with hitting the ball off the tee or what he would call just “chopping wood. ” He then would take this mind set to the real game and deemphasize the dual of out guessing this opponent on the mound but only concentrate on hitting the ball. Obviously, he had great skill and coordination to start with but he claimed that when he was able to put himself in this zone, he was clearly at his best. Conversely when he allowed himself to be caught up with what was expected of him because of his mulit million dollar contract, how many homeruns he hit that day or week, whether his batting average was trending up or down,  how badly he was hitting that month, what the press said or didn’t say about him,  his chances of making the All Star team etc. etc, he never was at his best and at times he would be at his worst. The ability to concentrate on the moment whether you are working out or enjoying your children’s or grandchildren’s school play may be a skill that has to be cultivated.  That certainly is the lesson of this book. As a bonus in addition to his advice about how to approach baseball and life, Green also shares a few of his inside baseball stories such as when he met Ted Williams, memorable things that his coaches said to him, life traveling on the plane with the team etc. There was nothing very revealing as this was certainly not a “ tell all book “ but rather it told us how to find stillness when facing speeding baseballs coming at you or just about anything else that life might throw at you.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, O - Other - Specify

Deadline Artists Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis

March 22nd, 2013 — 9:45pm

Deadline Artists – Edited by John Avlon, Jesse Angelo & Errol Louis9781590204290_p0_v1_s260x420

Do you have a favorite newspaper columnist whom you often read? Do you occasionally pass on a newspaper column that you have read to a friend? (or these days might it be a great blog?)Well, imagine if you had a chance to read some of the best columns that have been written over the past two hundred years. That is exactly what the editors of this book have offered us as they compiled what they believe are the best of the best. They did this by going to many sources and experts including some contemporary writers and asked them to suggest their favorites over the years. They divided the book into sections such as social issues, war, politics. humor, sports etc. Some columnists that may be familiar depending on your age are Nora Efron, Jimmy Breslin, Drew Pearson, Teddy Roosevelt and even Benjamin Franklin, Some of the chosen columnists are still writing such as Thomas Friedman.  You may know some of them as great authors and may not have realized that they started as newspaper writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Some of the pieces are classics such as the famous column which is reprinted in many newspapers every year whch starts off- “ Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” There are works by legendary sportswriters such as Grantland Rice’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There is  Ernie Pyle writing about the average soldier from the war front during WWII. Many of us read on the run or in-between things or a bit before we go to sleep. Since newspaper columns by their very nature are short pieces that you can digest as a little dessert. It also means that if  is there is a topic that is not your piece of cake or is so outdated that it no longer has meaning or interest (and there were a few in this category) you can just move on  to the next one. However, if you appreciate history in the making and are fascinated by social commentary of the times , don’t skip this book.

Comment » | H - Humor, HI - History, O - Other - Specify, P - Political, Uncategorized

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