It will come as no surprise to those who have heard Stevenson speak or perused any of his briefs that Just Mercy is an easy read—a work of style, substance and clarity. Mixing commentary and reportage, he adroitly juxtaposes triumph and failure, neither of which is in short supply, against an unfolding backdrop of the saga of Walter McMillian ... Stevenson is not only a great lawyer, he’s also a gifted writer and storyteller. His memoir should find an avid audience among players in the legal system—jurists, prosecutors, defense lawyers, legislators, academics, journalists—and especially anyone contemplating a career in criminal justice.
McMillian’s ordeal is a good subject for Stevenson, first of all because it was so outrageous. The reader quickly comes to root for McMillian as authorities gin up a case against him, ignore the many eyewitnesses who were with him at a church fund-raiser at his home when the murder took place, and send him—before trial—to death row in the state pen ... Stevenson, writing his own book, walks a tricky line when it comes to showing how good can triumph in the world, without making himself look solely responsible ... as it happens, the book extols not his nobility but that of the cause, and reads like a call to action for all that remains to be done. Just Mercy has its quirks, though. Many stories it recounts are more than 30 years old but are retold as though they happened yesterday. Dialogue is reconstituted; scenes are conjured from memory; characters’ thoughts are channeled à la true crime writers ... For a memoir, Just Mercy also contains little that is intimate. Who has this man cared deeply about, apart from his mother and his clients among the dispossessed? It’s hard to say. Almost everything we learn about his personal life seems to illustrate the larger struggle for social justice ... But there’s plenty about his worldview ... Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.
Because Stevenson's reform efforts within the criminal justice system are so diverse, his memoir jumps around from chapter to chapter, somewhat compromising effective narrative ... Stevenson's book moved me because of his obviously brilliant mind, his bottomless compassion for the underdog and his successful championing of justice on so many fronts.
One follows in awe as Stevenson overcomes one obstacle after another in his improbable untangling of the web of deceit thrown up by law enforcement officers, the prosecutor and judge. Indeed, this is the part that any death penalty post-conviction lawyer will appreciate ... Just Mercy exposes all the racism, bigotry and sheer incompetence of Atlanta’s police. It also reveals a callous administrative indifference all the way up the chain of command. Just Mercy shines a penetrating light on entrenched racism in our police and judicial systems. Given Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and a host of recent incidents, this exposure of indecent, systemic failure is essential reading.
Stevenson details changes in victims’ rights, incarceration of juveniles, death penalty reforms, inflexible sentencing laws, and the continued practices of injustice that see too many juveniles, minorities, and mentally ill people imprisoned in a frenzy of mass incarceration in the U.S. A passionate account of the ways our nation thwarts justice and inhumanely punishes the poor and disadvantaged.