The Far Side of the Moon by Clive Stafford Smith review – a death row lawyer’s soul-searching memoir

By telling the life stories of his bipolar father and a convicted murderer he tried to save from the electric chair, Stafford Smith raises urgent moral questions about behaviour and justice

If you have ever wondered from where the death-row lawyer Clive Stafford Smith gets his intransigent, crusading spirit, this vivid, inquiring memoir provides much of the evidence. It is set up as a book not about its author but about the lives of two very different men who helped to define him. The first is Stafford Smith’s father, Dick, a wildly volatile man with bipolar disorder, who squandered the family fortune and blamed everyone but himself. The second is Larry Lonchar, an inmate in Georgia State Prison facing a capital sentence, one of the many men for whom Stafford Smith has acted as advocate and sometime saviour in the past 40 years. The lawyer’s examination of these two doomed lives, and his own role in them, expands into a compulsive personal investigation into the limits of empathy, and the proper balance of responsibility and retribution toward the destructive actions of men not in their best minds.

Dick Stafford Smith, whose death in 2007 first prompted this book, was in some ways the blueprint for all of the prisoners lost in the American justice system, for whom his son petitioned mercy: a man burdened with a temperamental makeup entirely unsuited to the circumstances of his adult life. Haunted by his failure to fathom his father, still less to help him, Stafford Smith explores how he went in search of the most extreme kinds of “save-able” surrogates elsewhere. Not for nothing did he call his charity Reprieve.

Continue reading...


Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper – review

A penetrating analysis of the connections that enabled an incestuous university network to dominate ...

Read More >

Sounds Wild and Broken review – a moving paean to Earth’s fraying soundtrack

David George Haskell’s often wonderful book explores some of the lost frequencies of nature – hea...

Read More >

About a Son by David Whitehouse review – murder, and what comes after

The novelist worked from the diaries of a bereaved father to create this creative nonfiction account...

Read More >

Butler to the World by Oliver Bullough review – bent Britain at your service

This unmissable history traces Britain’s cynical transition over 70 years from imperial power to kl...

Read More >

Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins review – the brutal truth about Britain’s past

In shocking, meticulous detail, an acclaimed American historian uses ‘lost’ records from 37 former...

Read More >

What Do Men Want? by Nina Power; A History of Masculinity by Ivan Jablonka – reviews

From cavemen to incels, two academics offer different routes in analysing how we arrived at our curr...

Read More >