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The Executioner's Song Paperback – International Edition, April 28, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Executioner's Song is a work of unprecedented force. It is the true story of Gary Gilmore, who in 1977 became the first person executed in the United States since the reinstitution of the death penalty. Gilmore, a violent yet articulate man who chose not to fight his death-penalty sentence, touched off a national debate about capital punishment. He allowed Norman Mailer and researcher Lawrence Schiller complete access to his story. Mailer took the material and produced an immense book with a dry, unwavering voice and meticulous attention to detail on Gilmore's life--particularly his relationship with Nicole Baker, whom Gilmore claims to have killed. What unfolds is a powerful drama, a distorted love affair, and a chilling look into the mind of a murderer in his countdown with a firing squad. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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This is an absolutely astonishing book. -- The New York Times Book Review, Joan Didion --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1072 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International Ed edition (April 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700811
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Roulette on July 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Norman Mailer's book is easily the best of the more than one hundred true crime books I've ever read. The story of Gary Gilmore & Nicole Baker reads like a warped American Romeo & Juliet at times, albeit a white trash version of sorts. When all was said and done, Gilmore had spent 18 of his 36 years institutionalized in one form or another. So Gary fought the state of Utah when they sentenced him to death in 1976. The twist is that he had to fight to make them follow through with their threat. Gilmore, as well as anyone, knew what prison was like and that he wanted nothing more to do with that kind of life.
This is one of the feww 1,000+ page books that left me wanting more when it was over. Mailer had access to virtually everyone necessary to pull off this monumental undertaking. The narrative is basically stripped of needless frills and the author's opinions are held in check beautifully when you consider the inflammatory nature of the subject matter. Mailer also does an admirable job of allowing Gilmore's victims to appear as human beings, not merely as props used by Gilmore to achieve immortality and release.
This book has the potential to spark debate on a variety of newsworthy issues, such as prison reform, victim's rights, incarceration vs. education, the death penalty as a deterrent, right to die, etc.. Gilmore's case was remarkable in regard to American Justice as we now know it. Gilmore himself was a complex and fascinating individual with underdeveloped emotional control and virtually no social skills to speak of. He developed into adulthood in legal institutions and was woefully unprepared for life outside prison walls.
Mailer does not flinch or miss a single beat.
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Format: Paperback
Winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize, The Executioner's Song scrutinizes the life and death of Gary Gilmore, arrested and tried for the 1976 killings of two innocent men in Provo, Utah, during petty burglaries which netted him less than $250. Author Norman Mailer bases his novel on the one hundred interviews and hundreds of phone conversations he conducted with people involved in Gilmore's life, trial, and execution. He also examined all available police documents and court transcripts, and made many trips to Utah and Oregon to talk with witnesses and people who knew Gilmore,

Having had no contact with Gary Gilmore himself, Mailer maintains a reporter's distance, ultimately portraying Gilmore as a loser who got his "education" in the prison system in which he spent half his life, and turning him into a symbol of the sociopath for whom society has found no answer except the death penalty. The novel divides naturally into several sections: the gruesome crimes themselves, including Gilmore's mindset at the time, his background, and the effect of the crimes on his family and friends; the pre-trial maneuvering and the trial itself; the conviction and post-conviction appeals; and Gilmore's execution and its aftermath.

Gilmore is not presented sympathetically, though Mailer goes to great lengths to portray him accurately. Gilmore's unusually high IQ, his poetic letters to his girlfriend Nicole, and his admission of guilt and desire to pay for his crimes with his own death create a unique picture of someone who had both intelligence and a kind of honor. But neither Gilmore nor the psychologists could ever explain why he did what he did. One moment Gilmore says, "I don't know what the hell I'm doing," and another moment he says, "I've always had a choice.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Roulette (bconner1@mindspring.com) on July 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Having read more than 150 true crime books, I feel qualified to tell you that Norman Mailer has written the finest, by far, tome of the genre. The story of Gary Gilmore and Nicole Baker reads, at times, like a white trash Romeo & Juliet. The movie of the same title did a great injustice to Gary Gilmore. Yes, he was a thief and a murderer, but he was also an extremely intelligent and artistic man. Gilmore ended up spending 18 of his 36 years institutionalized in one form or another, so when the state of Utah sentenced him to die in 1976 Gary fought to make them follow through with their threat. He, as well as anyone, knew what prison was like and that he wanted no more of that kind of life. This is one of the only 1,000+ page books that left me wanting more when it was over. Mailer had access to nearly everyone needed to pull off this monumental undertaking. The narrative is stripped of frills and the author's opinions are held in check beautifully when you consider the inflammatory nature of the subject matter. Mailer also does an admirable job of letting Gilmore's victims appear as human beings, not merely as the props used by Gilmore to achieve immortality and release. This book has the potential to spark debate on a variety of issues that still make headlines today, such as prison reform, incartceration v. education, the death penalty as a deterrent, right to die. Gilmore's case was monumental in regard to American justice. Gilmore himself was a complex and fascinating individual with underdeveloped emotional control and no social skills to speak of. He was taught how to be an adult in institutions. Mailer does not flinch or miss a single beat. He tells the story of Gary Gilmore and the lives that Gilmore touched and/or destroyed. He does not take any obvious liberties to fit the story to his own beliefs. I was not a fan of Mailer until I read this book. It is one of the top five books I have ever had the privilege of reading.
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