Although the phrase "listening without judgment" has a noble, gentle ring to it, enacting it practically and living it physically seldom feel like "gentle" tasks. The urge to respond to a lawyer, an activist, and even at our weakest moments, a survivor of violence, and shout "That's not what I would have done!" can be more than just a nagging sensation. It can be, two hours into a harrowing narrative, all consuming.
So reading the emotional memoirs of a capital defense lawyer is a strikingly different experience, because no matter how empathetic one tries to be as a reader, the nature of a book, especially one so confessional as this one, is to lay itself out for judgment, aesthetic, moral, and factual. Reading David R. Dow's "The Autobiography of an Execution," I could be consumed by an urge to shout back at him, but all that was in front of me was a page of text, not the living, breathing Dow. At the same time, matters of legal complexity that would normally register a shrug of "It's just too hard to understand," don't turn off the reader so easily because they are invested with meaning for Dow, and in certain cases, with matters of life and death.