Founder of The Equal Justice Initiative in 1989, lawyer Bryan Stevenson specializes in defending the poor, the socially disadvantaged, and minors; he has presented landmark cases before the Supreme Court five times, and worked successfully to abolish mandatory life sentences for children. He recounts his career in Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau $28), and this story is as much that of the people he defends and befriends (especially his early experience working with Walter McMillian, wrongly convicted of murder and awaiting his end on death row when Stevenson intervened), as it is the account of his own impoverished childhood, his family tragedies (his great-grandparents were slaves; his grandfather was killed in a Philadelphia housing project), his academic success, and rise to national prominence. This book is urgent, passionate, and civilized; a guided tour of the darkest corners of our justice system, it also points the way to a better future.
In her brilliant and witty Plato at the Googleplex (Pantheon, $29.95), Rebecca Newberger Goldstein puts her novelist’s imagination and her scholarly gravitas to work in carrying on the tradition of the Socratic dialogue. Blending ancient history with a contemporary book tour, Goldstein follows Plato’s dictum that “the best thinking is always playful,” as she pits the Ancient against the Tiger Mother in an energetic discussion about raising exceptional children, introduces him to Google to update his ideas about knowledge, and presents his answers on the Myers-Briggs test. Overall, Goldstein refutes the scientists who claim that philosophy has not made progress. By using the form and method of Plato’s moral reasoning, she shows that these are not archaic relicts but ever-practical tools that have helped us see, for instance, that slavery is wrong. More important, these nimble colloquies show that philosophy, unlike physics, doesn’t discover new facts but gives us the perspectives with which to understand what we know.