The book’s not really about the death penalty, but about the toll that capital defense takes on the lawyers who do it for many years. Sheffer starts by talking about their motivation: What would motivate anyone to take a job with not-great pay, terrible hours, and almost no victories? Some of the lawyers say they need the adrenaline rush of a job that’s urgent. Many of them say that they are motivated by a particular narrative that they have of their responsibility to the world.
I ask what attracts him to aligning with and working on behalf of those who have less power. He is silent for a few moments. … “Those are the stories in fiction and nonfiction that move me. … And that’s not because each individual story is so compelling; it’s just that that’s the narrative that moves me and motivates me, … great sacrifice for others.”
…It’s an interesting way of sounding for one’s own motivation: listening for which cultural stories, which myths and legends, are most compelling.
This last sentence is an example of something I really loved about Sheffer’s authorship. While direct quotes from her subjects comprise a lot of the book, she’s also good at finding commonalities between responses and highlighting for the reader what she found most interesting in the responses she received.
... Sheffer knows that capital defense attorneys and their stress and trauma are not the main story when you talk about capital punishment. The interviewees are constantly expressing this as well, how their stories and their pain are nothing compared to what the families of the victims, the families of the clients, and the clients themselves are going to. But Fighting for Their Lives sheds fascinating light on a part of the story of capital punishment that I, for one, have never read about before. Recommended.