In this Carnegie Award-winning book, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative explores one of his first cases—that of Walter McMillian, a young black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman he didn't commit—and its web of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship that transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
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.