Weekly Words about New Books in
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January 23, 2022
New Memoirs Examine Political Insurrection and a Court System Rife with Inequality
Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin. Maryland Congressman Raskin, a Democrat, offers a unique and often painful snapshot of his life during the first month and a half of 2020. During that period, he confronted the painful loss of his son to suicide, lived through the violent insurrection in our nation’s Capitol, and led the impeachment effort to hold President Trump accountable for inciting the political violence. 

On December 31, 2020, Raskin's only son Tommy took his own life after a long struggle with depression. Seven days later, on January 6, Raskin returned to Congress to help certify the 2020 Presidential election results, when violent insurrectionists led by right wing extremist groups stormed the U.S. Capitol. As the reeling nation mourned the deaths of numerous people and lamented the injuries of more than 140 police officers, Congressman Raskin, a Constitutional law professor, was called upon to put aside his own grief - both personal and professional - and lead the impeachment effort against President Trump for inciting the violence.

In Unthinkable, Raskin reflects on this awful convergence of personal and public trauma, detailing how the painful loss of his son and the power of Tommy’s convictions fueled the Congressman’s work moving forward. From his vantage inside Congress on January 6, Raskin recounts the horror of a day of mass political violence unlike any in American history. With an inside account of leading the team prosecuting President Trump in the Senate, Raskin shares never-before-told stories of just how close we came to losing our democracy that fateful January day and lays out the methodical prosecution that convinced a majority of lawmakers of Trump’s responsibility for inciting insurrection and violence against the government. 

In his review in The New Yorker, David Remnick wrote, “Unthinkable is not a work of emotional austerity; rather, it is an unburdening, a howl, a devotional. The grief is nightmarish, but the love that suffuses the text is even more powerful—the love for family and a lost child, as well as a love for a fragile democracy. It takes its greatest inspiration from the idealism of Raskin’s son.”
Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor’s Fight for Fairness by Laura Coates. Currently a CNN senior legal analyst, Coates is a former federal prosecutor who served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and a Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, specializing in the enforcement of voting rights throughout the United States. In her new book, she offers up a sobering but eloquent portrait of bias in our court system.

When Coates joined the Department of Justice as a prosecutor, she wanted to advocate for the most vulnerable. But she quickly realized that even with the best intentions "the pursuit of justice creates injustice." On the front lines of our legal system, Coates saw how Black communities are policed differently, Black cases are prosecuted differently, and Black defendants are judged differently. Drawing on her long and first-hand experience in the courtroom, Coates underscores the tension between the idealism of the law and the reality of working within the parameters of a flawed legal system, exposing the chasm between what is right and what is lawful.

David Lat, writing in the New York Times Book Review enthused about Just Pursuit thusly: "A compelling collection of engaging, well-written, keenly observed vignettes from her years as a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. But Coates's stories, instead of trying to aggrandize her as an attorney, have a different and more profound purpose: They illustrate the injustices of our criminal justice system, exploring the ambivalence and even guilt that Coates felt as a Black female federal prosecutor working within - and for- that system."