Clive Stafford Smith is a British/American attorney who specialises in the areas of civil rights and working against the death penalty in the United States of America. He founded Reprieve, which is an organisation of courageous and committed human rights defenders and works to oversee their casework programme, as well as the direct representation of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney at law.
Clive was a recent guest at the Lush Creative Showcase and previous to that at our Lush Summit in February. His human rights work very much aligns with our own ethics, and with that in mind, we asked him to recommend some of his favourite books to us.
First, I would recommend any number of editions from my 125 Robin Hood books. That particular obsession relates solely to the fact that of all the characters in history or mythology I would most like to have been Robin Hood. (I also have scores of Brer Rabbit books as the story of the Tar Baby is the great authority when it comes to dealing with the very big, rather Brer-Fox-Stupid, US Government.)
Next, I would recommend all five (to date) of the SJ Parris series about Giordano Bruno.
These are rollicking historical novels about a real person – Giordano Bruno, a Sixteenth Century cosmologist and contemporary of Galileo who extended Copernicus’ theories insisting that the universe is infinite, and therefore has no centre, let alone the Earth. While he is wrong about this (it is well known that the little village where I live, Symondsbury in Dorset, is the centre of the universe) the books are full of wonderful historical detail. I am, though, a little concerned that the author will remain true to history and poor Giordano will end up being burned at the stake in 1600.
The Father I had by Martin Townsend.
Martin Townsend is a journalist who wrote a book about his bipolar father, “a man who he loved unconditionally but who would turn on him whenever the illness took hold.” I am currently writing a book about my own bipolar dad, a life in parallel with a bipolar client, Larry Lonchar. Larry had the misfortune to suffer his illness on death row in the US where, when he would be depressed, the Georgia Department of Corrections would deny him medication so he would commit suicide by Electric Chair. My father was perhaps more fortunate both because he lived in the UK and because he was manic (“enthusiastic” in his words) more often than not. He was very destructive, and Townsend’s intimate portrait is a timely reminder that Dad was the father I had.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander.
“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in electoral democracy.” This is the opening of the book. I know Jarvious, who cannot vote in Mississippi because of his felony conviction. His African-American predecessors were disenfranchised sequentially by slavery, Ku Klux Klan intimidation, poll taxes and literacy tests. The history is important. When David Cameron said that it made him want to vomit to think that Britain might have to let “criminals” vote under European court jurisprudence, I thought he might benefit from reading Michelle’s book, which highlights how felony disenfranchisement – far from being a Mosaic rule issued by God on a tablet from Mount Sinai - began as a wheeze of the American racist right to keep the black minority from flexing their political muscle.
If there is still room on the bookshelf, I would include Ernest Raymond, We, the Accused which is a weighty and tremendous 1935 novel about Paul Presset, who “cannot but yield to an open opportunity to rid himself of his overbearing wife.”