Ep. 74 The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington– The Stacks Book Club (Allison Punch)

Today on The Stacks Book Club, Allison Punch is back to discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentists by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington. The Book is an in depth look at two men who are part of the death investigation industry in Mississippi, how their corruption is indicative of the field at large, and how their malpractice is an indictment of the criminal justice system as a whole.
There are no spoilers on this episode.

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

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July 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

As this year has been progressing my reading has been slowing down in a major way. I only made it through seven books in July. I need to read at least eight books a month to hit my goal for 100 books in 2019, so I’ve got to pick it back up in August.

As far as what I read, I really enjoyed everything and the content was very diverse for women in business to forensic investigations. I think the two books thats really stood out were We Live for the We by Dani McClain and The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. Both books were read for the podcast, and I’m very grateful to Dani McClain for bringing them into my life. I also loved Michelle Obama’s memoir, though that was to be expected. She is such an inspirational woman.

July by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 7
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 0
Unread Shelf: 2
Books Acquired: 23

By Women Authors: 4
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 6
Published in 2019: 1


Becoming by Michelle Obama

(Photo: amazon.com)

There is no doubt Michelle Obama is a national treasure and getting to hear about her life in her own words was such a wonderful experience. This memoir spans her childhood through the end of her husband, Barack Obama’s, presidency. She shares the ways her mother helped to shape her into the woman she is now, and she shares the ways she is shaping her own daughters. I was especially taken with the parts of the book in which we got an inside look at moments we had only seen through the media (the killing of Osama Bin Laden or when she touched The Queen).

The one place I wanted more from this book was when it came to what Michelle has learned and seen with her inside access to America. She and her family experienced so much racism and hatred from large swaths of the country, what did those experiences say to her about America? What did her inside access to the rich and famous say about income inequality? What has she seen that the rest of us could never fully understand? I just wished Michelle Obama was more candid in her observations about America. This was minor compared with how much I loved the book and her story and how much I felt inspired by her as a Black woman.

Four Stars | Random House Audio | November 13, 2018 | 19 Hours 3 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D.

(Photo: amazon.com)

An inside look at how doctors approach their patients and their work. This book answers questions about why a doctor might miss a diagnosis, or opt out of administering a test. It also looks at how patients can guide their doctors in the right direction within their interactions, and how they can help them to think differently about their presenting symptoms.

Overall I liked this book, though at times, I drifted in and out of paying attention as git repetitive in sections. The earlier chapters were more enjoyable as a lot of the information was new. I wished Groopman had taken more time to look at the factors that play into our implicit biases like race and class. That could have made for a more full and nuanced book that could help change the way doctors and patients interact.

Three Stars | Tantor Audio | March 28, 2007 | 10 Hours 27 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

(Photo: amazon.com)

A deep dive into the forensics and death industry and the corruption that lives just below the surface. This book is a jaw dropper, it will make you think about the systems that are in place in America and how they play into a history of racism that has led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of Black and Brown men.

I really enjoyed learning about this small part of the criminal justice system. The book is extremely well researched and reported and the stories in it are nearly unbelievable. I wished the authors had been more clear in linking the history of death investigation to the story they tell of one coroner and one forensic “expert”. There are missing links in this book that could round out the story telling. Overall it is interesting and opens the readers eyes to so much corruption. It almost feels like a gateway book into deeper dives into how forensics play a role in wrongful convictions and more.

Three Stars | PublicAffairs: 1st edition | February 27, 2018 | 416 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Radley Balko on The Short Stacks now, click HERE. We also discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist in detail for The Stacks Book Club, click HERE to listen.


The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

(Photo: amazon.com)

The sudden death of her husband leads Elizabeth Alexander to reflect on life and love in this gorgeous memoir. Full of the kinds of observations about what it means to truly live a full life and what it means to be a part of a community, and a family.

I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. It is just beautiful. Alexander is a skilled poet and she seamlessly transitions her writing from verse to prose in this memoir. The book has a sense of deep pain but also extreme lightness. For anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one this book speaks to the magic that is inherent in that pain.

Four Stars | Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition | September 6, 2016 | 240 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Light of the World on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

The Merchant of Venice is one of William Shakespeare’s more famous plays and is best known for being the play about “the Jew” but little more is said about this extremely complex and nuanced play. I was so glad to actually get a chance to reread it and attempt to examine the layers in this story.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, the Jew, lends out money and it isn’t repaid per the terms of the loan, and Shylock is ready to collect on the debt he is owed (pound of flesh anyone?). However once it turns out that he plans to fully collect everyone becomes incredulous and begs him to show a little mercy and compassion. This is an extremely common narrative in today’s society. After the murder of nine Black people at a church in Charleston, SC there was an immediate cry for the Black community to forgive the White Supremacist who murder these innocent people. We even saw the Black President of The United States, Barack Obama, sing “Amazing Grace” in his eulogy. This cry for mercy and forgiveness is often asked of “the other”.

There is a lot more that could be said about The Merchant of Venice, so far in my journey through Shakespeare’s cannon (#ShakeTheStacks Challenge) it feels like the most layered play. It feels urgent and painful and unfortunately more timely than I would like.

Four Stars | Penguin Classics | August 1, 2008 | 103 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood by Dani McClain

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A book that looks at the many elements of mothering for Black women. The book moves between McClain’s personal doubts and questions and her reporting on how other mothers are doing the work to raise their children in progressive and engaged ways.

I didn’t think I would connect with this book as someone who isn’t a mother, and yet, I was moved deeply by it. We Live for the We is a great reminder that the work of parenting and mothering is not only for those who have birthed or adopted children, but also to the friends and relatives who help shape those young lives. The book takes on a variety of topics that intersect and build off one another, things like pregnancy, children’s bodies, education, and activism. There is a lot in this book that is important for those who parent of all races, but especially for Black mothers.

Four Stars | Bold Type Books | April 2, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Dani McClain on The Stacks HERE


WorkParty: How to Create & Cultivate the Career of Your Dreams by Jaclyn Johnson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

Jaclyn Johnson (of Create & Cultivate fame) knows her stuff. She is a smart woman with a lot of insight and a very clear voice and point of view. I didn’t always like her writing style (a little too casual and filled with hashtags and pop culture references), and wonder if it will age well over time, but I appreciated much of what she had to say. She has great advice, like be a pleasure to work with, we are our reputations, and much more. She’s not rewriting the business world, but she is making it more approachable and accessible for young female entrepreneurs.

One place Johnson could have elevated WorkParty was by choosing to be more intersectional in her approach. She has centered her own story so much she doesn’t leave room to discuss Black and Brown women, people who are gender non-conforming, women who have disabilities, women who come from lower socio-economic groups and all the hurdles that these communities have to overcome just to get a seat at the table.

Overall I was surprised in the best ways by this book. There is certainly advice I will take with me as I grow as a business woman running The Stacks.

Three Stars | Gallery Books: Reprint Edition | March 5, 2019 | 256 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss WorkParty on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.

After reading Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir, The Other Side I couldn’t wait to dive into this essay collection, that was positioned as a sort of response to her kidnapping and rape that was documented in her memoir. The Reckonings is that response, and it is much more than that as well.

More on The Reckonings

In 2014, Lacy Johnson was giving a reading from The Other Sideher memoir of kidnapping and rape, when a woman asked her what she would like to happen to her rapist. This collection, a meditative extension of that answer, draws from philosophy, art, literature, mythology, anthropology, film, and other fields, as well as Johnson’s personal experience, to consider how our ideas about justice might be expanded beyond vengeance and retribution to include acts of compassion, patience, mercy, and grace.

She grapples with justice and retribution, truth and fairness, and sexual assault and workplace harassment, as well as the broadest societal wrongs: the BP Oil Spill, government malfeasance, police killings. The Reckonings is a powerful and necessary work, ambitious in its scope, which strikes at the heart of our national conversation about the justness of society.


The Reckonings is one of the most powerful books I’ve read. A well crafted meditation on justice and the roles that each of us, as humans and citizens, has in the greater picture and good of society. Johnson is a great thinker, who is subtle with her own intellect. She is wise. She is thoughtful. She is accessible. She sees the world in a more compassionate and realistic way than many. However she never forces her depth on her reader, instead she allows to understand her own processing, peppering her discoveries with “I think”. This isn’t done out of self doubt, but as a way to remember Johnson is trying to figure it all out, and figure out her role in it all.

This book is profound. It has something to say, about joy and health, and access, and vindication, and mercy, and grace, and privilege, and art, and the most base human desires. Johnson leans into the complex nature of sacrifice and healing. Honest and vulnerable each essay is willing to engage with the complexities of society, and in doing so, Johnson has to confront herself. Her biases and what they say about her ability to be compassionate or an ally, or whatever it is that comes up. The Reckonings has so much to say, that when I got to the end of the book, I went ahead and read all of the notes, in full, and then went back and re-read the first two essays. I couldn’t get enough of the words and what they had to say.

There are essays in The Reckonings that range from the Nigerian Girls captured by Boko Haram to Hurricane Harvey, from the justness of the death penalty to the cost of the BP oil spill. The essays seem like they wouldn’t belong in a book together, but somehow as you’re reading them, each one feels like it is in its perfect place. They all build on one another until we come to some resolution. I won’t tell you where that is, but know that it was fulfilling and bleak. The only way this book could have ended.

I think there is something to learn from this book for just about everyone. The writing is beautiful and the content matches. Johnson is a professional writer, something that we often times over look, but The Reckonings reminded me why people dedicate their life to the arts, so that they can create artwork that reminds the rest of us what it means to be alive.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • PublisherScribner (October 9, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy onThe Reckonings Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

5DF10CBB-A65E-4C65-B6E5-F119B079DA59.JPGI have been fascinated with murders and murderers for as long as I can remember. I’ve also always been a big reader, and when you put those two things together, true crime and reading, you invariably get to The Executioner’s Song. It is an eleven hundred page true crime classic. And so after ten years, I finally decided to check this off the big book bucket list.

Here is more about The Executioner’s Song:

Arguably the greatest book from America’s most heroically ambitious writer,The Executioner’s Song follows the short, blighted life of Gary Gilmore who became famous after he robbed two men in 1976 and killed them in cold blood. After being tried and convicted, he immediately insisted on being executed for his crime. To do so, he fought a system that seemed intent on keeping him alive long after it had sentenced him to death. And that fight for the right to die is what made him famous.

Mailer tells not only Gilmore’s story, but those of the men and women caught in the web of his life and drawn into his procession toward the firing squad. All with implacable authority, steely compassion, and a restraint that evokes the parched landscape and stern theology of Gilmore’s Utah.The Executioner’s Song is a trip down the wrong side of the tracks to the deepest source of American loneliness and violence. It is a towering achievement-impossible to put down, impossible to forget.


Normally when I read a book, I feel pretty confident in my review. I sit down to write it, and out comes my thoughts. I may stop and start a little, but with The Executioner’s Song I am about 4-5 attempts in and still feeling unsure of where I stand. Part of my struggle is coming from the fact that there is just so much book, so many ideas to unpack and feelings to sort through. Another part is because I do not want to spoil anything, even though you could easily spoil so much by looking up Gary Gilmore on wikipedia. So here goes my attempt to explain my thoughts without out giving away too much…

This is the kind of book that haunts you, not because of what happens in it, but because of how it all unravels. I didn’t love the book. It never fully hooked me, but I have found myself thinking about the people involved in Gilmore’s life and death a lot since I finished it. There were moments of suspense that I thoroughly enjoyed, and then sections that felt endless. There were people I loved in one section of the book, and then was hoping they’d be leaving the story a hundred pages later. While I never fully understood why so many people rave about this book, I suspect it has to do with the way Mailer is able to give his characters room to transform in front of the readers eyes. These people feel full and complete, no one is without dimension. Mailer’s writing style is impressive and specific and lacks any frills. It is direct, like the people you find in the book.

A tale of White toxic masculinity told by a toxic White man, The Executioner’s Song can be rage inducing. I felt myself feeling sorry for a murderer and domestic abuser in one moment and then feeling furious at the author for presenting the story in that way. Giving Gilmore so much room to garner sympathies when he really behaves disgustingly through out. Despite his deep flaws, Mailer does find humanity in Gilmore. He also finds the humanity in the kind of world where a Gary Gilmore could be created. I don’t disagree with Mailer that part of Gilmore was cultivated during his time in prison, however the compassion that Mailer asks us to show to Gilmore was often times more than I could bear.

There are no answers in this book. I am okay with that. Conversations around incarceration and murder and class and relationships are seldom clear cut. Mailer throws all his research your way, and more or less asks you to sift through it. He may guide you, or allow his characters to sway you, but in the end you’ll take from this book whatever you need.

One of the big topics of debate revolves around capital punishment, not only if its a good idea or not, but how someone is sentenced for death and how that process progresses. Forty-plus years later, this part of the book feels more current than it should. We get a view of the death penalty debate from many sides. We see how death row works, how the appeals process functions, we even get a good look at the media frenzy behind high profile criminal cases. In the end, I found myself asking over and over, what is the point? Is the world really any better off with Gilmore dead?

In the end I am glad I read this book. I didn’t love it, but I appreciated it, not only as a piece of writing but as a glimpse into a moment in time. After spending the better part of a month reading through this book, it was not the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but I did have major moments of shock and awe. It is an incredible feat of journalism and story telling, and it is an exceptional commentary on the death penalty and the humanity of criminals. I can recognize the greatness in The Executioner’s Song theoretically, but I could never fully feel the power that many others have experienced in reading the book.

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (May 8, 2012)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy on The Executioner’s Song Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Ten Non-Fiction Books for Fiction Lovers

AB2EBDFE-7E76-4563-941D-06EB3B3B0AA9As I have become more engaged with the book world, and I have been outed as a non-fiction lover, I have had lots of conversations with many of you on what are some good non-fiction books. So I put together my list of top 10 non-fiction books for people who don’t read non-fiction.

This isn’t a list of the best non-fiction I’ve ever read, but books that I think those of you who love a good novel will enjoy. Those of you looking for a way in. Most of these books are more narrative driven, and use rich language to develop characters and events. While there are a variety of types of non-fiction books on this list, they are all captivating.

This list is presented in alphabetical order, I simply can not play favorites with these books.

Between The World and Me Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic) is known for his work on dissecting the experience of Black Americans. Between The World and Me written to Coates’ son, is a powerful look at the history and practices that have created a culture in America, where Black people are not valued as full citizens. He looks at slavery, discrimination, mass incarceration, and the murder of Black citizens by the police. Coates asks us not only how did this happen? But also, where do we go from here?

 Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood This is the story of Trevor Noah’s upbringing as a mixed child in Apartheid South Africa. It is at once funny and poignant. You learn so much about his life, and gain a new appreciation for his success. I laughed at loud at parts and felt my self tearing up here and there.

Columbine In this deeply emotional reexamination of one of the most famous school shootings in American history. Author, David Cullen looks at the facts of the shooting and uses forensic experts, the killers’ own words, and all the evidence to figure out what really happened on April 20, 1999.

Jesus Land: A Memoir In this memoir by Julia Scheeres, we learn of her childhood with her adopted brother, David who is black, in racist rural Indiana. We see her life in the Mid-West and also her experience in a religious camp in the Dominican Republic. Scheeres’ story is heartrending and emotional. You can’t imagine the world she comes from and the stories she has to share.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption The story of a lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and his journey as an activist and advocate on behalf of those who are sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. Not only is this book a memoir of Stevenson’s early days as a appeals lawyer, it is also a searing indictment of the United States criminal justice system.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Over the course of five years, author Jesmyn Ward loses five young black men in her life. This book is her examination of why something like this could happen. It is a look at what it means to be young and black in America. Written with all her skill as a fiction writer, and all the truth of her lived experience. This is a really special book. We cover this book on The Stacks Podcast and you can listen to our episode here.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After In her memoir, Clemantine Wamariya (with co-author Elizabeth Weil) tells her unimaginable journey of life as a refugee from Rwanda in 1994. Clemantine and her sister Claire, travel through eight African countries, before they ultimately end up in America. While the book is about their journey, it is also about finding one’s voice and strength to carry on and to thrive. It is both devastating and empowering. The writing is beautiful.

Unbroken:A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption This is one of those stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie (and guess what, this book is now a movie).  Laura Hillenbrand writes this story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII pilot, turned prisoner of war, turned survivor. Its almost more than you can handle, and then you remember what Zamperini went through, and you remember you’re just reading.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith When it comes to non-fiction, author John Krakauer is my favorite. I can highly recommend any of his books (Where Men Win Glory is a personal favorite). In Under the Banner of Heaven Krakauer dives deep into the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. He examines the religion, their traditions, believes, and brings up many questions about Mormonism. This book is not to be missed.

Zeitoun Dave Eggers tells the story of a Muslim man caught in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The book takes place at the intersection of natural disaster response and The War on Terror. The story is almost beyond believe, and the storytelling is illuminating.

63439241-927F-48C9-B6A5-67C450C9950AThis list is a great starting place if you think you’re not so much of a non-fiction person. And if you make your way through this and think maybe you want a little more, here are ten bonus books. While some of these may be less accessible (more niche topics, more clinical writing) for pure fiction lovers, the stories are inescapably engrossing and the writing is of course delicious.

I hope that these books help you add a little non-fiction to your world of reading. And if you already love non-fiction I hope you find something here that sparks your interests. Tell me what you think of my list, and add any of your favorite non-fiction books.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.