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How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room

James L. Trainum. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (308p) ISBN 978-1-4422-4464-1

In this groundbreaking book on the U.S. criminal justice system, Trainum, a former Washington, D.C. police detective, argues for reform of police interviewing and interrogation practices. The confession is considered the gold standard for law enforcement, because "most people believe that they would never confess to a crime they did not do." Yet suspects, witnesses, and informants often feel that they have no other option. Trainum carefully demonstrates why in an era of minimum sentences, where the worst-case scenario can be significant jail time, registration as a sex offender, or even the death penalty, prosecutors have breathtaking power to hold a person's life in the balance. The best option for a suspect or witness may be a false confession, informing, or a plea bargain, especially when a long legal fight may drain a family bank account, or when a prosecutor offers a reduced sentence or jailhouse privileges as reward. Without reform, prosecutors, police, and investigators may soon discover that "harsh and verbally abusive interrogation tactics that focused solely on obtaining confessions... not only [contribute] to false confessions but also to the negative perception of law enforcement by the public." Using numerous examples and backed by persuasive academic research, Trainum proposes a better way that is already at work in countries with similar criminal justice systems. His book will hit a nerve with a public newly concerned with abuses of police power, and hopefully will influence those tasked with law enforcement and public policy as well. (July)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond

Marc Lamont Hill. Atria, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2494-5

Hill, a journalist and a professor of African-American studies at Morehouse College, places recent incidents of police violence against African-Americans in their historical and geographical contexts. The outrage over constant tragedy gathers momentum as what might once have been local matters become highly publicized events. Places such as Ferguson, Mo., Sanford, Fla., and Hempstead, Tex., and victims such as Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Kathryn Johnston, have become familiar nationwide through media exposure. Hill critiques the intended and unintended consequences of various policies: the expanding discretionary power, performance requirements, and militarization of the police; mass incarceration, often the consequence of mandatory minimum sentences or indeterminate sentencing leading to the wide use of plea bargaining; the disproportionate imposition of public-nuisance laws, and "broken windows" and stop-and-frisk policies, on African-Americans; and the outgrowth of state-sponsored exploitation of African-Americans for economic gain, evidenced by privatized prisons, the bail bond business, the use of fines in funding local police department budgets, and housing practices that created ghettos of poverty. Hill's work is valuable in rendering individual lives with empathy but without sanctification as he assesses the historical, sociological, and statistical milieu of these casualties in a lucid, highly readable book. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

Britt Salvesen and Jim Shedden. Insight Editions, $29.99 (152p) ISBN 978-1608878604

This portrait of Bleak House, the home of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak), is pure nerd eye-candy. Salvesen and Shedden have assembled a richly illustrated house tour, with essays outlining how different areas represent different facets of del Toro's artistry. Bleak House is filled with photorealistic mannequins of horror characters and creators; thousands of statues, toys, and props from genre films; various occult doodads; and multiple overflowing libraries, including a room solely devoted to vampire lore. If there ever was a Xanadu for fans of science fiction and horror, del Toro's stately halls fit the bill. The essays, especially one on collecting, are warmly written and welcome, if unnecessary next to the breathtaking photographs. The book's latter half features short written pieces with titles such as "Victoriana"; "Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult"; and "Frankenstein and Horror." There are also reproductions of more classical artworks, tying del Toro's world to that of fine art. Del Toro is known for equally embracing horror films and Charles Dickens (after whose novel his home is named); it is only fitting that in his home, Frankenstein's monster stands among irreplaceable antique furnishings. This unusual portrait of the artist will have readers scrambling to catch up on the director's works; it is an unqualified success. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton

Joe Conason. Simon & Schuster, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-4391-5410-6

Journalist Conason (It Can Happen Here) shows his writing and research chops to full advantage in this engrossing look at former president Bill Clinton in his post-presidency years. From the book's first page—a detailed January 2001 snapshot of Clinton's first morning as a private citizen—the book grabs the reader's attention and holds on tight. The profile begins with Clinton in his first post-presidency year, surprised at the backlash following his pardon of Marc Rich and struggling with a "badly tarnished" reputation. Conason follows Clinton as he searches for his footing, becomes involved with helping regions affected by natural disasters, and addresses the international AIDS crisis. Conason's detailed and intimate sketches show a newly health-conscious man ("overnight, he became that rarest of Arkansans: a vegan") who's equally comfortable interacting with other former heads of state and with a young African AIDS survivor helped by his initiatives. With Hillary Clinton running for president, it's fair to be wary of the book's potential propaganda value, but Conason, a consummate journalist, does his best to present an objective portrait, including his subject's occasional less-than-lovely words and careless acts. Coming in the midst of a particularly fierce election season, this look at Clinton and his extraordinary work ethic may strike readers as almost poignant. Agent: Jeffrey Posternak, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jimmy Carter: Elected President with Pocket Change and Peanuts

Dorothy Padgett. Mercer Univ., $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-88146-586-0

Padgett offers front porch–style storytelling in this memoir of serving former president Jimmy Carter as a loyal campaign worker. In an informal and nostalgic style, Padgett recounts key moments in Carter's political life: his inauguration as governor in 1971, his announcement of his presidential run in 1974, and the fund-raising and planning of the Carter Library and Museum, which opened in 1986. Though a discussion of Carter is her goal, Padgett's strength is in stories of Carter's dedicated campaign workers. Padgett, an organizer of the famed Peanut Brigade, recounts the Georgia group's experiences as they traveled from state to state, knocking on doors, charming prospective voters with their Southern accents and manners, and helping Carter win key primaries. The stories have wit and exude the fervor and excitement of the times. Padgett provides extraordinary recollections of her time on Carter's campaigns and in his administrations, pinpointing minute specifics for long-past events. However, the inclusion of often superfluous details and exposition undermines the pace and effectiveness of her storytelling. Padgett is a Carter devotee, lavishing praise in her assessment of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's lives while withholding significant critique (such as of Carter's early silence on segregation), and her impressive portrait of her subject is unfortunately two-dimensional. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Margot Lee Shetterly. Morrow, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-236359-6

Shetterly, founder of the Human Computer Project, passionately brings to light the important and little-known story of the black women mathematicians hired to work as computers at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va., part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA's precursor). The first women NACA brought on took advantage of a WWII opportunity to work in a segregated section of Langley, doing the calculations necessary to support the projects of white male engineers. Shetterly writes of these women as core contributors to American success in the midst of a cultural "collision between race, gender, science, and war," teasing out how the personal and professional are intimately related. She celebrates the skills of mathematicians such as Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Hoover, whose brilliant work eventually earned them slow advancement but never equal footing. Shetterly collects much of her material directly from those who were there, using personal anecdotes to illuminate the larger forces at play. Exploring the intimate relationships among blackness, womanhood, and 20th-century American technological development, Shetterly crafts a narrative that is crucial to understanding subsequent movements for civil rights. A star-studded feature film based on Shetterly's book is due out in late 2016. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

Heather Ann Thompson. Pantheon, $35 (752p) ISBN 978-0-375-42322-2

Thompson (Whose Detroit?), a University of Michigan historian with expertise in mass incarceration, brilliantly exposes the realities of the Attica prison uprising, in which 43 prisoners and guards were killed. Writing with cinematic clarity from meticulously sourced material, Thompson describes the uprising and its causes as well as the violent retaking of the prison grounds by police and correction officers. These events form the backdrop for the decades-long tale of New York State's cynical, politically driven prosecutions of inmates caught in the uprising, and the state's parallel effort to suppress attempts to expose the criminal conduct of law enforcement during and after the suppression of the rebellion. Thompson unmasks the government misconduct that delayed reparations for both inmates and correction officer hostages who were killed or wounded by law enforcement during the chaotic events. The excruciating detail underscores the dangers of governmental abuse of power. As the long drama unfolds many heroes arise, including members of the truth-seeking press and the lawyers who doggedly helped the unpopular inmates to secure a $12 million settlement. The villains include venal prosecutors and politicians who engaged in a classic cover-up. Thompson's superb and thorough study serves as a powerful tale of the search for justice in the face of the abuses of institutional power. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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