Just Mercy (book)

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Just Mercy
Just Mercy 2014 Cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorBryan Stevenson
PublisherSpiegel & Grau
Publication date
21 October 2014
Pages336
Awards
ISBN978-0-8129-9452-0
OCLC877914371
353.48092
LC ClassKF373.S743
Websitejustmercy.eji.org
All identifiers refer to the hardcover edition published in 2014 unless otherwise noted

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is a memoir by Bryan Stevenson that documents his career as a lawyer for disadvantaged clients. The book, focusing on injustices in the United States judicial system, alternates chapters between documenting Stevenson's efforts to overturn the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillian and his work on other cases, including children who receive life sentences and other poor or marginalized clients.

Initially published by Spiegel & Grau, then an imprint of Penguin Random House, on 21 October 2014 in hardcover and digital formats and by Random House Audio in audiobook format read by Stevenson, a paperback edition was released on 16 August 2015 by Penguin Random House and a young adult adaptation was published by Delacorte Press on 18 September 2018. The memoir was later adapted into a 2019 movie of the same name by Destin Daniel Cretton and, commemorating the film, "Movie Tie-In" editions were released for both versions of the memoir on 3 December 2019 by imprints of Penguin Random House.

The memoir has received many honors and won multiple non-fiction book awards. It was a New York Times best seller and spent more than 230 weeks on the paperback nonfiction best sellers list.[5] It won the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, given annually by the American Library Association.[2] Stevenson's acceptance speech for the award, given at the Library Association's annual meeting, was said to be the best that many of the librarians had ever heard, and was published with acclaim by Publishers Weekly.[6][7] The book was also awarded the 2015 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction[3] and the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Nonfiction.[4] It was named one of "10 of the decade's most influential books" in December 2019 by CNN.[8]

Background[edit]

Stevenson in 2012
Stevenson in 2012

Stevenson, a lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative,[9] graduated from Harvard Law School after being inspired to become a lawyer in part by his grandfather's murder, which occurred when he was sixteen.[10] He earned his undergraduate degree from Eastern University, known as Eastern College at the time, and began his career as a lawyer for the poor in Georgia before moving to Alabama and founding the Equal Justice Initiative.[11]

Stevenson pitched the idea for the memoir to Chris Jackson of Spiegel & Grau based on a TED talk he had given and was signed immediately.[12] The title was chosen to help convey the book's message that justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive.[13] The story of Walter McMillian, which is the book's primary focus, was previously analyzed by a 1992 60 Minutes episode[14] as well as the 1995 book Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town[15] by the journalist Pete Earley.[11]

Overview[edit]

The book is a memoir about Stevenson's career as a lawyer and his work for poor clients, largely focusing on his efforts to overturn the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillian for the murder of Ronda Morrison.[11][10] Stevenson began working on the case in the 1980s, while McMillian was on death row.[11] The case is revisited throughout the book and serves as the primary narrative;[10] the chapters of the book alternate between visiting various aspects of the McMillian case over time (odd chapters) and Stevenson's work on other cases (even chapters).[16][17] McMillian was sentenced to death for the murder of Ronda Morrison, a young white woman, in Monroeville, Alabama, which is known as the hometown of Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.[11] The jury at McMillian's trial, which included only one Black person,[18] returned a sentence of life in prison, which was overturned by the presiding judge, who issued a death sentence in the case.[11] McMillian was acquitted in 1993, after spending six years on death row for the murder.[16]

The book also provides a brief history of the Equal Justice Initiative.[18] The book's central topic is the injustices that occur in the United States' criminal justice system, which had the world's highest incarceration rate and population at the time of publication.[19] It begins with Stevenson meeting a death-row inmate in 1983 while a law student and working as an intern for the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, which has since been renamed the Southern Center for Human Rights.[10] Tracking Stevenson's career over thirty years, the book ends in 2013, with the death of McMillian.[16] The memoir also documents Stevenson's work for other marginalized clients, including his efforts to overturn and ban life sentences given for crimes committed by juveniles.[18] Among other high profile cases, the book recounts Stevenson's effort in Miller v. Alabama, in which he successfully argued that mandatory life sentences for minors were a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution before the Supreme Court of the United States in 2012.[13] The memoir also describes cases of abuse of power in the criminal justice system.[20]

Reception[edit]

The book has received many reviews and has been praised by several celebrities. As of the summer of 2016, the book had been adopted by more than twenty colleges and universities as "college-level reading" assigned to incoming freshman.[21]

Praise[edit]

In a 2020 article on "books that changed her life", Oprah Winfrey wrote: "When I wanted to deepen my understanding of mass incarceration and social justice, I was guided by Bryan Stevenson’s masterful Just Mercy".[22] John Grisham wrote that the book is an "inspiring and powerful story".[23] Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu wrote that the book "is as gripping as it is disturbing—as if America’s soul has been put on trial."[24] Tutu has also written that the book "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."[25] Tutu has referred to Stevenson as "America’s Nelson Mandela".[26]

A. O. Scott wrote that it "is a painful, beautiful, revelatory book, the kind of reading experience that can permanently alter your understanding of the world."[27] Nicholas Kristof praised the book as a "searing, moving and infuriating memoir".[28] After reading the book Jonathan Lavine, an executive for Bain Capital, donated one million US dollars to the Equal Justice Initiative, saying "I was beside myself."[29]

Reviews[edit]

According to the review aggregator Book Marks, the book has received critical acclaim.[30] Among others, the book was reviewed by Alan W. Clarke,[31] David D. Cole,[32] Ted Conover,[11][33] and Rob Warden.[34] In his review, Alan Clarke wrote: "One follows in awe as Stevenson overcomes one obstacle after another".[31] David Cole wrote in a second review of the book: "Every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some way more so".[32] In his review, Ted Conover wrote that the memoir "aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer" and that "[y]ou don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man".[11] Conover summarized the book's message as "evil can be overcome, a difference can be made".[11] In his review, Rob Warden wrote that the book "is an easy read" and is "a work of style, substance and clarity".[34]

Among literary review publications, Kirkus Reviews gave the book the byline: "Emotionally profound, necessary reading."[35] The Financial Times wrote a review stating the book is "[a]s deeply moving, poignant and powerful a book as has been, and maybe ever can be, written about the death penalty."[36]

Awards and honors[edit]

It was named as one of the best nonfiction books of 2014 by many different publications, and it won several awards, including the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, given annually by the American Library Association.[2] Stevenson's acceptance speech for the award was said to be the best many of the librarians at the conference had ever heard, and was published in an article titled "Is This the Greatest Book Award Acceptance Speech Ever?"[6] by Publishers Weekly.[7] A version of the article was reprinted by Publishers Weekly at the end of the year in a story titled "PW's Top 10 Library Stories of 2015".[37] it was awarded the 2015 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction,[3] and it received the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Nonfiction.[4] The book was also a finalist for the 2014 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction,[38] a finalist for the 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize,[39] and was nominated for the 2015 Warwick Prize for Writing.[40]

Year Award Category Result Ref(s)
2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Literary Prize Nonfiction Won [41]
Kirkus Prize Nonfiction Nominated (Finalist) [38][35]
2015 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Nonfiction Won [2]
Warwick Prize for Writing Non-fiction Nominated (Longlist) [40]
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Current Interest Nominated (Finalist) [39]
Dayton Literary Peace Prize Non-Fiction Won [3]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Literary Work – Nonfiction Won [4]
2017 The Stowe Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice N/A Won [42]

Best books lists[edit]

The book has been placed on lists of the top nonfiction books of 2014 by Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Seattle Times. It was named as one of the five most important books of 2014 by Esquire with a tagline written by Charlie Pierce that praised Stevenson for his work, ending with: "If the system can produce people like him, it can be both just and merciful".[43] In 2018 book was listed as one of the "Top 10 books about miscarriages of justice" by The Guardian with a tagline that said the book is a "rallying cry for justice advocates".[44] At December 2019, CNN included it in a list of the decade's decade's ten most influential books, noting that it "is a compelling portrait of a lawyer dedicated to exposing the inequities of the US criminal justice system" and that "Stevenson masterfully connects his own fight with the struggles of McMillian and a few of his other former clients and personalizes the nation’s raging debate on racial injustice and criminal justice reform."[8] The book was also named as an American Library Association Notable Book in 2015.[1]

Reading lists[edit]

  • Included in "An Anti-Racist Nonfiction Reading List" by Publishers Weekly in June 2020.[50]
  • Included in "20 Books For 2020: A Reading List On Race In America" by Forbes in June 2020[51]
  • Oprah Winfrey included the book in an article on "books that changed her life" in early 2020.[22]
  • Barack Obama included the book in his 2019 Black History Month reading list that was made in celebration of the fifth anniversary of his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.[52]

Adaptations[edit]

Movie[edit]

The book was adapted into a feature-length film of the same name that was released in theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures on 6 December 2019. The movie's screenplay was written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham as an adaptation of the memoir's telling of the Walter McMillian case.[27] Directed by Cretton, the movie stars Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as McMillian.[53][27] Other stars in the film include Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and Brie Larson.[27] The adaptation was included in a list of the "Best of 2019: 8 of the most memorable book-to-film releases" by The Los Angeles Times.[54]

Adapted for Young Adults[edit]

Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice is an adaption of the book aimed towards young adults that was published by Delacorte Press on 18 September 2018. The book debuted as the Publishers Weekly number one young adult best seller in September 2019.[55] The book made the New York Times Best Sellers Young Adult Paperback list in January 2020.[56] Among other honors, it shared the 2019 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award with Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, an award given each year by the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education for an outstanding work in children's nonfiction.[57] Kirkus Reviews posted an article on the book saying it "is required reading, embracing the ideals that 'we all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.'"[58] The book has also been included in reading lists by various publications,[59][60][61] such as USA Today who named it as one of "17 kids books to read for Black History Month".[62]

Publication history[edit]

Sales[edit]

The book was a New York Times best seller, peaking at the number one spot in combined nonfiction sales on 2 February 2020,[63] it has spent over 35 weeks on the combined nonfiction best sellers list,[64] and it has spent over 230 weeks on the paperback nonfiction best sellers list.[5] It is also a USA Today Best-Selling Book, having spent over 30 weeks on their overall list[65] and peaking at number six for the week ending on 22 August 2020.[66] After being promoted by Starbucks in late 2015, the book made number eight on the Publishers Weekly Best Sellers list for the week of 7 September 2015, selling over twenty-five thousand copies that week.[7] The book was simultaneously included on their "Trade Paperback" list at number two,[67] after debuting on the list the week before at number twelve with four thousand copies sold.[7] The magazine published an article noting that, while it had sold fifty-four thousand print editions of the book since its release in 2014, the sales had been slow and steady so that it had not previously made it on any of the lists.[7] After sales slowed down following the 2015 Holiday season, the book reappeared on the Trade Paperback list at number 18 on 25 July 2016.[68]

The book made several bestsellers lists in 2020, including peaking at number one on the Los Angeles Times Nonfiction Best Sellers List on 23 February 2020.[69] Upon the release of the "Movie Tie-In Edition", the audiobook made Publishers Weekly's list of "Apple Books Category Bestsellers" at number three on the week of 8 March 2020.[70] The book, along with several others, reentered the USA Today Best-Selling list in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in late May 2020, when several related popular titles sold out in stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as there was a large surge in demand for books on racial justice.[71] Publishers Weekly reported that the book had sold nearly 14,000 copies over the week ending on 30 May 2020, while it had only sold 5000 copies the week before.[72] The book remained a top 50 seller for the month of June, having sold over 168 thousand copies from January through June 2020.[73] Forbes noted that, since the start of the George Floyd protests, sales of anti-racism books, including Just Mercy, jumped by over 2000%, with the book selling over 100 thousand copies between May and June of 2020 alone.[74] As of 15 December 2020, the book remains on The Washington Post's nonfiction paperback best sellers list,[75] having peaked at number one on the list on 12 February 2020.[76]

Original version[edit]

  • Hardcover: Stevenson, Bryan (21 October 2014). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (1st ed.). New York: Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-8129-9452-0. OCLC 877914371.
  • Paperback: Stevenson, Bryan (18 August 2015). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (1st ed.). New York: One World. ISBN 978-0-812-98496-5. OCLC 877914371.
  • Digital: Stevenson, Bryan (21 October 2014). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (1st ed.). New York: Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-8129-9453-7. OCLC 877914371.
  • CD: Stevenson, Bryan (21 October 2014). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (1st ed.). New York: Random House Audio. ISBN 978-0-553-55060-3. OCLC 875246893.
  • Audiobook: Stevenson, Bryan (21 October 2014). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (1st ed.). New York: Random House Audio. ISBN 978-0-553-55061-0. OCLC 875246893.

Young adult version[edit]

  • Paperback: Stevenson, Bryan (10 September 2019). Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (1st ed.). New York: Ember Publishing. ISBN 978-0-525-58006-5. OCLC 1020311553.
  • Hardcover: Stevenson, Bryan (18 September 2018). Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (1st ed.). New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0-525-58003-4. OCLC 1020311553.
  • Hardcover: Stevenson, Bryan (24 June 2020). Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (Large print ed.). Waterville, Maine: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-1-4328-7863-4. OCLC 1159241103.
  • Digital: Stevenson, Bryan (1 September 2018). Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (1st ed.). New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0-525-58005-8. OCLC 1020311553.
  • Audiobook: Stevenson, Bryan (18 September 2018), Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (1st ed.), New York: Listening Library, ISBN 978-0-525-63592-5, OCLC 1041858523
  • CD: Stevenson, Bryan (18 September 2018), Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (1st ed.), New York: Listening Library, ISBN 978-0-525-63592-5, OCLC 1041858523

Movie Tie-In Edition[edit]

  • Paperback: Stevenson, Bryan (3 December 2019). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Movie Tie-In ed.). New York: One World. ISBN 978-0-593-13393-4. OCLC 1128270554.
  • Paperback: Stevenson, Bryan (3 December 2019). Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (Movie Tie-In ed.). New York: Ember Publishing. ISBN 978-0-593-17704-4. OCLC 1020311553.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d Albanese, Andrew (27 June 2015). "ALA 2015: Doerr, Stevenson Win Carnegie Medals". Publishers Weekly. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "2015 – Dayton Literary Peace Prize". Retrieved 16 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Dalton, Andrew (22 February 2020). "Lizzo, 'Just Mercy' win top honors at NAACP Image Awards". AP News. Retrieved 16 December 2020.
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  12. ^ Patrick, Diane (27 November 2015). "Chris Jackson: Acquiring Nonfiction on Race and Justice". Publishers Weekly. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
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  15. ^ Earley, Pete (1995). Circumstantial evidence : death, life, and justice in a southern town. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-09501-3. OCLC 32201666.
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  23. ^ Mitchell, Jerry (17 December 2014). "Renowned lawyer Bryan Stevenson signing books today". The Clarion-Ledger. ISSN 0744-9526. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  24. ^ Tutu, Desmond (17 April 2015). "Why Desmond Tutu Thinks Bryan Stevenson Is "Shaping the Moral Universe"". Vanity Fair. ISSN 0733-8899. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
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  44. ^ a b Dahl, Julia (11 April 2018). "Top 10 books about miscarriages of justice". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
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  51. ^ Westaway, Kyle (4 June 2020). "20 Books For 2020: A Reading List On Race In America". Forbes. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  52. ^ Obama, Barack (18 February 2018). "President Obama Marks Five-Year Anniversary of My Brother's Keeper with Reading List". Obama Foundation. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  53. ^ Lee, Ashley (7 September 2019). "Michael B. Jordan says Bryan Stevenson is the 'real-life superhero' of 'Just Mercy'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 2165-1736. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
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  62. ^ Ali, Rasha (1 February 2019). "17 kids books to read for Black History Month from board titles to young adult". USA Today. ISSN 0734-7456. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
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  68. ^ "This Week's Bestsellers: July 25, 2016". Publishers Weekly. 22 July 2016. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  69. ^ "Just Mercy: Bestsellers". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 2165-1736. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  70. ^ "Apple Books Category Bestsellers, 8 March 2020". Publishers Weekly. 13 March 2020. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  71. ^ Cadden, Mary (4 June 2020). "Books about race flying off shelves, climbing best-seller lists following the death of George Floyd, protests". USA Today. ISSN 0734-7456. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  72. ^ Milliot, Jim (11 June 2020). "Race, Social Justice Titles Sparked Rise in Sales Last Week". Publishers Weekly. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  73. ^ Milliot, Jim (26 June 2020). "Print Sales Enjoy an Unexpected High". Publishers Weekly. ISSN 0000-0019. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  74. ^ McEvoy, Jemima (22 July 2020). "Sales Of 'White Fragility'—And Other Anti-Racism Books—Jumped Over 2000% After Protests Began". Forbes. ISSN 0015-6914. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  75. ^ "Washington Post paperback bestsellers". The Washington Post. 15 December 2020. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  76. ^ "Washington Post paperback bestsellers". The Washington Post. 12 February 2020. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 23 December 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]