The holiday season is a great time to stay indoors and crack open a new book. Literature allows us to learn about new perspectives. As a lawyer, literature provides a way to learn new information about your own field. There is a whole canon of literature devoted to justice and its role in a diverse society. Here are a few classic novels which every lawyer should read.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, during the heart of the Civil Rights movement. It is a coming-of-age story about Scout, a young girl living in Maycomb County Alabama during the Great Depression. Her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who is defending an innocent African American man in court. Scout must come to terms with the shortcomings and the nobility of those in her community, and the role an intolerant culture plays within the justice system.
Every lawyer should read this book because it illustrates a difficult, but important part of American history and American identity. It seeks to acknowledge the intolerance of time while offering hope for the future. Atticus Finch is a wise man who seeks justice in an unjust world. He teaches Scout that she should seek to see people from their perspectives and to see the goodness in all people. Scout is taught by her father to respect even the people who stand against her goals. A lawyer can to look to Atticus Finch as an example of a just and dedicated member of the court.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Crime and Punishment is a 19th-century novel published by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It details the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an incredibly poor, ex-university student living in St. Petersburg who murders a pawnbroker and her sister. Tormented by guilt, Raskolnikov eventually confesses to the police and is sentenced to seven years of hard labor in Siberia.
Every lawyer should read Crime and Punishment because it seeks to understand the concept of guilt and remorse and how it affects a criminal’s psyche. At first, Raskolnikov feels justified in murdering a greedy, unscrupulous pawnbroker, but after he commits the crime he feels only guilt. Raskolnikov humanizes the criminal. Crime and Punishment wrestles with remorse, and forgiveness, and morality within the justice system. In the end, Raskolnikov uses his time in Siberia as a way to reflect on and to do penance for his crime. A lawyer can look to Raskolnikov to understand how rehabilitation and justice intertwine.
True Grit by Charles Portis
True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross, a fourteen-year-old girl, who is seeking to bring to justice her father’s killer, Tom Chaney. Mattie Ross enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, an unkempt and alcoholic US Marshall, and later Mr. LaBoeuf, an arrogant and incompetent Texas Ranger. The three travel across the Choctaw Nation, searching for Chaney. Chaney captures Mattie and tries to kill her, but Cogburn and LaBoeuf save her before she is harmed. In the end, Mattie is bitten by a venomous snake and loses her arm, but survives the journey.
Every lawyer should read True Grit because it is an entertaining adventure story with an exciting plot and sympathetic characters. It teaches a lot about grief and the role it plays in the victim. Mattie Ross must wrestle with the grief and anger that she feels after her father’s death. The loss of her arm is a physical manifestation of the mental toll that the grieving process had on Mattie. Cogburn and LaBoeuf transform from somewhat unlikeable and petty men to heroes. Although True Grit handles justice a little more simplistically (Tom Chaney commits murder so he deserves to hang), it is an entertaining, and a straightforward character-driven story about grief and companionship set in the American West. It is a short, easy book, with a simple message, which any lawyer would enjoy reading.
If you are looking for a new book to read this winter, To Kill a Mockingbird, Crime and Punishment, and True Grit are all wonderful choices. Each of them offers a different perspective on the concept of justice. As a lawyer these books provide an entertaining way to learn a little more about the legal field.