This Is Our Story
By Wendi Adelson
Reviewed by Brooke Deratany Goldfarb
Wendi Adelson wants you to know the human slave trade still exists today. She wants you to know there are women all over the world who do not possess control and freedom over their lives or their bodies. She wants you to know if you are a person who can afford the time and money to get an education, you should consider going to law school and becoming, as she puts it, “an advocate for those whose voices have been taken from them.”
What I like most about this novel is the characters are so alive they practically walk right off the page. They are not romanticized, flawless, simple dupes, but complex, thinking, erring human beings.
Perhaps Adelson is able to make her characters seem so real because they are composites of actual people with whom she has spent countless hours. I submit, however, that the true reason Adelson is able to bring these characters to life is because of the clarity and conviction with which she writes.
My only complaint is how Adelson’s lawyer character tells her own story while constantly annotating her writing with footnotes. I find them distracting, yet I know she has done this because it is one of the idiosyncracies of Attorney Lily (and perhaps Ms. Adelson?).
I also have to take issue with the character of Attorney Lily herself, not because the author has done anything wrong, but rather because she has done such a good job bringing her to life. This character falls into some common wellness traps of attorneys, such as overwork and neglect of her personal relationships. Attorney Lily is so relatable, I feel like a friend who must sit her down woman-to-woman to force her to talk things out, if she’d only let me.
This Is Our Story is a very important book indeed. It reminds us that there is much work to be done and that we have the power to make a difference in the lives of those who may need a hand up.
Brooke Deratany Goldfarb is a Florida Bar member and president of Peaceful Beach Mediation in Indialantic.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
Reviewed by Brian C. Willis
Daniel Kahneman’s new book ties together the research done by him and many others over the past half century to provide a clear picture of how we think, how we decide, and how we make predictions about the future.
Thinking, Fast and Slow has two main “characters” — System 1 and System 2 — meant to represent what Kahneman believes are the two distinct decision making functions we use. System 1 is an automatic system of perception and decision making. System 1 “continuously constructs a coherent interpretation of what is going on in our world.” System 2 is the slow, controlled, deliberate process of analysis and choice that we perceive as thinking and deciding. In the mental world described by Kahneman, System 1 has far more power and influence over us than we realize.
Kahneman illustrates how the unseen workings of the systems cause us to make predictable mental errors. When Kahneman asked people how likely an event was to happen, he was able to prove they answered based on how easy it was for them to think of the event occurring. The question called for a statistical answer — what is the probability of a certain event occurring — and people answered the question by conducting a memory test — how easy is it for me to think of a certain event occurring. Of course, the subjects answering the question do not realize that their mind is substituting one question for another; they only perceive their mind coming up with an answer.
The number of experiments and cognitive illusions described by Kahneman avoids easy summary, but the book successfully ties these isolated experiments into an overall narrative.
As lawyers, we are often called upon to argue and persuade others. But the success of our work does not rest on logic alone. Legal argument is the skilled mix of logic, law, and emotion that make a successful courtroom or negotiation strategy. By giving us insight into how we think, Thinking, Fast and Slow offers a valuable addition to our understanding of the art of persuasion.
Brian C. Willis is a Florida Bar member with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick in Tampa.
Anatomy of Injustice
By Raymond Bonner
Reviewed by David Mandell
January 14, 1982, was an unusually cold day in Greenwood, South Carolina. The focus on the weather was broken by the discovery of the body of Dorothy Edwards, a 76-year-old widow. A neighbor called police and told them he looked after Mrs. Edwards and had found her body in the closet. The call began a long battle over capital punishment, the subject of Raymond Bonner’s book, Anatomy of Injustice.
Bonner begins with the arrest of a suspect, Edward Elmore, and follows his three trials and many appeals. Bonner views the investigation and prosecution as an injustice of incompetence, bigotry, and politics. Elmore, a mildly retarded young man, worked as a handyman doing occasional jobs for Mrs. Edwards. Police quickly arrested him, and the solicitor charged him with a capital crime. Bonner reports that although Elmore received two defense attorneys, their role was essentially cosmetic. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to death.
Elmore received a competent appellate attorney, and the trial verdict was overturned. A new trial was ordered, but he was assigned the same defense attorneys, and the result didn’t change. The jury again ordered the death penalty. Elmore was given a third death penalty trial after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in another case that limiting mitigating evidence in capital cases was unconstitutional. Elmore finally received a dedicated trial attorney, but his efforts could not stop another death penalty verdict.
Anatomy of Injustice is a well-written and absorbing tale of a death penalty case. Bonner passionately believes an innocent man has spent decades imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Although understandable, his passion at times detracts from the account. He mocks the quality of the law school at the University of South Carolina, calling it barely in the nation’s top 100 schools. This unfounded comment is proven wrong by the performance of one of the book’s heroes, an appellate lawyer for Elmore, who graduated from that law school. He also tosses in political views that could have been omitted.
These issues aside, Anatomy of Injustice is worth the time for anyone interested in capital cases.
David Mandell is a Florida Bar member in Connecticut.
By Charlotte Rogan
Reviewed by Linda L. Winchenbach
Set in 1914, Charlotte Rogan’s novel The Lifeboat is a compelling adventure tale of struggle against the sea’s heartless elements, but it is also the story of the personality and power struggles within an overcrowded lifeboat adrift for three weeks after the ocean liner Empress Alexandra sank. It quickly becomes apparent that Grace Winter, the narrator, is being tried in England for an event occurring during the ordeal, and her journal of recollections is prepared to help her attorney.
Grace’s interactions with others in the boat and the knowledge she is near death are personal conflicts. The people must cooperate, yet each is alone. Grace looks and hopes for leadership and salvation from John Hardie, the only seaman aboard, but one woman in particular claims she can do better. Ultimately, Grace believes she must choose.
Grace is cunning and, frankly, one wonders how much of her narrative is true and how much she has written to serve her purposes. Still, she grows somewhat in her understanding of others’ weaknesses and the manipulative techniques they use. Gradually, she learns, as we all must, that in the end we are individuals whose choices are our own to bear, and sometimes we must pay the consequences for the choices we make.
Charlotte Rogan is an architect; this is her first book. Her character studies of Grace, Hardie, and the other primary boat occupants are insightful and carefully constructed. There are a couple of loose ends in the plot, but her writing is fast-paced and skilled. As a sea tale, a psychological novel, or an account of the two-week trial, it’s a good read.
The Lifeboat was published in 2012 by Little, Brown & Company. It is available in hardcover ($24.99; 279- pp.) and several electronic formats.
Linda L. Winchenbach is a Florida Bar member with John M. Green in Ocala.
By Dave Emmi
Reviewed by Jeff Albinson
In the early part of the “naught decade” (2000 to 2009), as happened thousands of times throughout America over the past 30 years, a teenager was shot to death just outside Philadelphia, PA. An arrest was made, and criminal prosecution ensued. The case went to trial, and a jury was seated. The jury heard the evidence, deliberated, and rendered a verdict. Unlike most such cases, in this instance the jury foreman, a writer, was deeply moved by the trial and, in response, he wrote a unique book combining modern day facts with historical perspective and dark drama.
In Philadelphia Execution, jury foreman Dave Emmi uses his real-life experience to explore the culture of drug-related gun violence against the framework of the founding of the United States. The book is a dense tangle of historical revelations about the settlement of New Sweden — the area that would eventually become Philadelphia and southeast Pennsylvania — and facts related to the actual murder trial. It is a unique perspective, considering gun violence in historical terms. That juxtaposition offers insights and raises questions that leave the reader pondering questions that might not have been raised had the trial been the only focus of the book.
The account of the deliberations are fascinating. Emmi lays open the mystery of a jury room with a deft touch and an eye for detail. He digs deep into his subject matter, looking for a logical frame upon which to drape highly charged emotional material. The death of a teenager, no matter the circumstances, is a tragedy, and Emmi explores without exploiting.
Given the recent Trayvon Martin incident (also involving gun violence and teenage death), this book might just get “discovered” for its unique look at this subject matter. It is a tightly packed read that entertains and educates. One cool twist here is that the author is also a musician, and you can find his song of the same name on YouTube.
Philadelphia Execution, published by XLibris, runs about 110 pages and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers for $19.95. For more information, visit www.DaveEmmi.net.
Jeff Albinson is a Bar member in Tampa. His practice focuses on defending lawyers in malpractice and Bar grievance matters.