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Posted June 9, 2001
Many good facts; should be (and isn't) a spellbinder
Small, slim book. Easy reading. The author provides numerous endnotes so you can track down the sources. I wanted more sound bites, more pithy quotes, more compelling arguments -- not because the book lacks for substance, but because the author does not present his powerful facts in the persuasive language of a lawyer or pundit. <p> Example: on pp. 156-57, he says, 'The folly of using expensive prison space for drug offenders, even traffickers, has been documented in research conducted on the federal prison population.' My objections: (1) The author uses the passive voice constantly, and it sounds weak. Why not phrase it like this: 'Researchers have documented the folly ....' (2) I would break out the argument about traffickers separately. Win the point about small-time users first, and then piggyback on that to explain the presumably more controversial view that we should not even incarcerate the traffickers. (3) After reading the sentence just quoted, I immediately thought to myself that the other dumb thing about locking up a small-time user is that you basically send him/her to graduate school for criminals. S/he might learn better ways of avoiding detection or conviction for crimes, drug-related or otherwise, and might come to sympathize with the anti-law enforcement attitudes of convicted criminals who become his/her friends in prison. I wanted to know whether these sorts of outcomes do occur, and I wanted the author to make a strong anecdotal and/or statistical case for the rather obvious point that iffy characters, who are not hardened criminals, should have good role models. The author did not say any of these things, nor indicate the extent of existing or needed research on such questions. Moreover, he said nothing at all on this matter until his very last sentence in that section of the book, where he said only this: 'Further, by reducing ties to legitimate institutions, incarceration may make these offenders 'more prone to subsequent criminal involvement.'' I make this point because it happened repeatedly throughout the book: to me, a stated fact or finding immediately implied certain follow-up questions or conclusions, but the author did not seem to share my sense of what was most interesting or important about it. <p> Admittedly, more persuasive language would have lengthened the book, and possibly the author and/or publisher decided the actual writing style would be better for their own particular purposes. For instance, I did in fact check this book out of the library, and I did read it, whereas I, or at least some readers, might not have checked out a thicker volume. Even so, I did not come away from the reading with a sense of having been moved, persuaded, or given the sort of substance that would stay with me. I submit that, ultimately, the reader will prefer a longer book over a shorter one if the longer book is more gripping.
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