Just Mercy: Book summary and reviews of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy

A Story of Justice and Redemption

by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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Book Summary

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship - and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Emotionally profound, necessary reading." - Kirkus

"A must-read for anyone in the field of criminal justice and for fans of true crime." - Library Journal

"...the author's experience with the flaws in the American justice system add extra gravity to a deeply disturbing and oft-overlooked topic." - Publishers Weekly

"Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South...Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story." - John Grisham

"This is a book of great power and courage. It is inspiring and suspenseful - a revelation." - Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

"Bryan Stevenson is one of my personal heroes, perhaps the most inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and Just Mercy is extraordinary. The stories told within these pages hold the potential to transform what we think we mean when we talk about justice." - Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

"Words such as important and compelling may have lost their force through overuse, but reading this book will restore their meaning, along with one's hopes for humanity." - Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains

"Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation." - Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

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Reader Reviews

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CarolK

Justice, Just Justice
I often think that my grandparents and parents lived in interesting times. They saw so many things come about in their day. Theirs were exciting times. Women won the right to vote, slaves were freed, and medical advancements were plenty. It was the time of The Industrial Revolution, electricity, the telephone, planes, trains, and automobiles so to speak. I tend to downplay the important breakthroughs of my life and times, Television, Computers, a second industrial revolution of Technology, several wars, the quest for Space, and The Civil Rights Movement.

The debate about Capital punishment and the death penalty has been one I have tussled with from my teens to this day. The older I get, the more I read, the more I lean to the correctness and justification for its abolishment in our state. I haven’t come to this decision lightly; it’s a real struggle for me. Perhaps this conflict of soul is why books such as Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption interest me so much.

Bryan Stevenson didn’t start out walking the path to where he is today. While a student at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, he thought he might choose a career in music or sports. He majored in political science and philosophy and eventually decided on law school. While a student at Harvard in the early 80’s, Stevenson participated in an internship in Atlanta, Georgia with The Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC), relating to race and poverty. During this time he spent many hours seeking appeals for inmates on death row.

”I wasn’t prepared to meet a condemned man.”

"I had never seen the inside of a maximum security prison and certainly had never been on death row.”

Steve Bright, the head of the project, met his plane. He told Bryan

”Capital punishment means ‘them without the capital get the punishment.’ We can’t help people on death row without help from people like you.”

It came time for Stevenson to meet one of the men in a case they were working on. Can you imagine this inexperienced, twenty-three year old driving himself to this high security prison to meet with a man convicted of murder and sentenced to die? Stevenson knew little about capital punishment and had not taken a class in criminal procedure. He wasn’t even certain he wanted to be a lawyer or confident that he could make a difference in the race or poverty issues that motivated him thus far. It is here that his course is set and his lifetime work begins, even if he was not quite aware of the full impact as yet. His mission was to be to assure the inmate that he could not be executed anytime soon. He meets Henry and ends up apologizing, admitting he is just a law student. After the initial awkwardness they go on to talk for three hours about anything and everything. When it’s time to leave Henry just asks that Stevenson come back again. As Henry leaves the visitation room he sings a part of the hymn On Higher Ground:

After finishing his degree, Stevenson begins taking on cases. One that is documented in detail is that of Walter McMillan, a black man accused of murdering a white woman. There are many others. In my experience of listening to the author narrate his book I couldn’t help but shake my head at the wrongness of many of the convictions. There were times when I had to stop listening and needed to wipe away the tears at man’s inhumanity to man. Mental illness, children tried as adults, minorities, poverty and race played a large part in many of the cases explored.

Ultimately Bryan Stevenson establishes The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit in Montgomery, Alabama that represents wrongful convictions and has won many exonerations.

This is a book that will stay with me. It is an important book. I plan to make a donation to The Equal Justice Initiative. That just seems right.

In the end it became more a matter of just justice than just mercy for me. That is all I wanted, Just Justice!

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Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. 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.

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