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91 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars harrowing, brilliant...the best true crime I've encountered
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...
Published on July 8, 2000 by Johnny Roulette

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflicting thoughts...
After just completing the arduous task of reading this 1000+ mammoth, I am left with conflicting thoughts. At what point does this type of detail become self defeating? Obviously Mailer wanted to document every little detail in an attempt to get the reader as close as possible to the Gilmore story. Unfortunately, stretches of the book passed by leaving me irritated...
Published on September 7, 1999


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91 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars harrowing, brilliant...the best true crime I've encountered, July 8, 2000
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. He simply tells the story of Gary Gilmore and the story of the lives touched and/or destroyed by Gilmore. He does not take any obvious liberties to fit the story to match his own beliefs. I was not a Mailer fan until I read this book. It is one of the five best books I have ever had the priveldge of reading.
The movie of the same title did Gilmore a serious injustice. Yes, he was certainly a thief and a murderer, there's no overlooking that, but he was also an extremely intelligent and artistic man. I also recommend reading Shot In The Heart, by Mikal Gilmore(Gary's younger brother). It is a beautifully written book that fills in a lot of blanks and generally helps to complete the Gilmore story.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If I feel like murder, it does not necessarily matter who gets murdered.", May 1, 2006
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (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."

Mailer takes the long view throughout the novel, which ultimately becomes an extraordinary study of a man facing justice and the extraordinary steps the judicial system takes to see that true justice is served--the agonies endured by friends, the sleepless nights of attorneys and judges, the soul-searching of those required to carry out the sentence, many of them Mormons who do not support the death penalty, and the frustration of Gilmore, who wants death and fears that he will be reprieved. A brilliant and complete study of the American way of life and those, like Gilmore, who cannot live within it, the novel is, however, excruciatingly long. The last half of the book, with the minutiae of the legal maneuvering, the post-trial activities, and the appeals could have been cut in half without sacrificing depth or truth. n Mary Whipple
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The finest book ever written in the true crime genre!, July 9, 1999
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Norman Mailer delivers a masterpiece of work, October 4, 2001
By 
kristin L fox (Gig Harbor, Wa United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
I first read the Executioner's Song several years ago and was fascinated by it then. I have just read it again and the same holds true now. Nothing that I have ever read before compares with this book.
The true account of Gary Gilmore and those who's lives he forever affected will leave you literally haunted. The true story of one man's attempt to reintroduce himself into society after half a lifetime locked away in the prison system only to commit double murder a short time after he is out of prison. And his personal battle to make the State of Utah execute him only nine months after he was let out of prison is a tragic and gripping portrayal of American History.
Norman Mailer's delivery of this story is more like a window into the actual lives of Gary Gilmore and his girlfriend Nicole. It's not like your reading a book but rather being transported into their realm. I at times found myself completely depressed when reading certain parts of the book. I had to put it down for a time because it was upsetting. The book contains themes that deal with religion, sexual abuse, human rights, the law, suicide, love, and manipulation just to name a few.
I came away with the sense that I knew these people intimately. that I knew their friends and family members.I was caught up in the inner turmoil of the ill fated lovers Gary and Nicole. The last half of the book chronicals the lives of the lawyers, people who worked for the ACLU, and others who become involved with Gary. At times there are so many people involved in the circus like atmosphere that surrounds the case that you easily forget who is who.But this book is based on reality and these people all played a part in the case. Some large and some small.
This book is a keeper for one's bookshelf. An outstanding piece of American Literature from a gifted writer.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflicting thoughts..., September 7, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
After just completing the arduous task of reading this 1000+ mammoth, I am left with conflicting thoughts. At what point does this type of detail become self defeating? Obviously Mailer wanted to document every little detail in an attempt to get the reader as close as possible to the Gilmore story. Unfortunately, stretches of the book passed by leaving me irritated and just wishing Mailer would get on with it. Example: Did we really need 1.5 pages of detail about what the inside of a motel room looked like?
Other than these comments, I was interested and found the stories of Gilmore, Nicole, Schiller, Vern, Bessie, and Mikal all intriguing. As for one's thoughts about Gilmore, I am left with no sympathy whatsoever. I doubt his story is much different than many other criminals who either were saddled with a troubled childhood, or just had evil in them. Gilmore's apparent intelligence does not make the reader feel any less sympathy at his execution. The only thing that makes this story unique in my mind is his desire to take his punishment like a man, and even that was mitigated by his suicide attempts.
Still, for sheer level of detail and thought provoking issues about capital punishment, 'The Executioner's Song' made for a good read. Best true crime novel ever? I doubt it though.....
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1000+ pages of everything, November 23, 2004
By 
M. Buisman (Amstelveen, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
Is "The Executioner's Song" a novel or a piece of journalism? If you read the afterword and know what everything that is written actually happened you would think the latter. And it is, but the writing is so compelling it is also a piece of literature like Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood".

In short, the story is about Gary Gilmore, a villain who has been in jails and correction centers for most of his life but who has never been corrected, maybe even the opposite. He gets out of jail, works in a shoe store and meets Nicole, the number one person for him for the rest of his life. His life outside of jail is one of drugs, violence and a lot of drinking, until one day he brutally kills two people. He is then sentenced to get the death-penalty, which had a moratorium for few years. Even though many groups like the ACLU try to stop this he actually wants to get the Death Penalty. The last pages are excrusiating, does he get it or not?

Gary Gilmore was a menace, not a nice person who kept drinking and making other people's lives miserable. I had to be really careful not to feel some kind of sympathy for him however. Was het a victim of society and/or the prison system? In the end I actually was hoping he would not die.

The lives of the other people around him are also masterfully told. From his immediate family to the lawyers that came in later.

This book is great of you want a book about average Americans, about the legal system, the Death Penalty and interestingly enough also the Mormon Church.

It may be more than a 1000 pages but every one is worth it. The chapters are short and also divided into smaller parts. Because of the writing style you can put it away for a few days and pick it up again.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of the Pulitzer Prize, December 12, 2000
By 
Literary Larry (Wayne, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
Hands-down the finest piece of journalism I have ever read. The story of Gary Gilmore has a practically infinite number of issues and sub-issues and Mailer just nails them all with a towering, Pulitzer-worthy effort. Rather than ramrod his own personal opinions, Mailer allows the Legal system, the Penal system, and the Media to define themselves.
Perhaps the most gripping theme of the book is its portrayal of ordinary people performing under extraordinary pressure, especially Gilmore himself, who combines a fascinating dichotomy of homicidal violence with deep and intelligent introspection, and under extreme duress shows himself to be a man of unwavering and unimpeachable principle.
Tirelessly researched and written in a reserved and simplistic manner, the book is simply astonishing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Gary Gilmore Story (and a Pulitzer Prize Winner!), January 19, 2007
By 
Rebecca Kinson (Fredericksburg, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
Let me tell you first that this is a LONG book -- about 1,200 pages. I read it throughout the past year while I was in between books.

The book tells the true story of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer. He was sentenced to death in Utah, a state where the death penalty was never actually carried out. Gary wanted to die rather than spend the rest of his life in prison, so he began petitioning the courts for his right to die. This became a huge media sensation at the time. I remember it well.

Norman Mailer used notes and tape recordings collected throughout the ordeal to write a very personal account of this story and the events surrounding it. Every page of the book is entirely believable.

...that is not to say that it's always interesting, though. The love story between Gary Gilmore and his 19-year old girlfriend is interesting. Gary's dialogue with just about anybody (family, lawyers, movie producers) is always interesting as well. On the flip-side, much of the information on the lawyers and producers and their personal backgrounds is quite boring, but probably necessary due to the level of detail in the rest of the book.

Overall, I recommend the book for the story itself and the thorough research. I did wonder after reading this 1200-page book whether I should have just watched the movie? I don't know -- I still haven't seen it yet.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive, powerful, and well written, January 4, 2010
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Paperback)
Did the book have to be 1000+ pages. No. Did it have to quote seemingly every vulgar, profane word Gilmore and his girlfriend said/wrote? No. Did Mailer have to bring in so many extraneous details about places and people almost irrelevant to the story. No. Is this the finest true crime book ever written. I don't necessarily think so.

However, time is too short to read entire books that are boring, poor quality, or worthless, but I read every page of the book. And Mailer is, of course, one of the finer American writers. The book is written well and parts of Gilmore's story are so fascinating that I had to read on just to find out what he would do or say next. In this sense, the book is not only true crime but a psychological thriller.

I do not believe Gilmore was brilliant or misunderstood, and I don't believe he should in any sense be excused because of his awful upbringing. I don't even believe that Gilmore showed courage in demanding his own execution. He had spent more years in prison than out and he hated the idea of being in a confined cell for the rest of his natural life. Can we learn some things from Gilmore's life? Definitely, and without a word of commentary, Mailer does a terrific job of exposing a life powerfully and brilliantly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars pulsating real-life drama...., May 24, 2007
This review is from: The Executioner's Song (Hardcover)
Not a dull page in the book. Gary Gimore was executed in Utah, by the firing squad, in 1977 after the death penalty was reinstated. Norman Mailer in an incredibly researched book writes Gimore's compelling story. Gilmore grew up in a prison life and he knew that he would never change no matter how many people tried to help him. He could cope in prison but not in the real world as is true of so many prisonmates. He argued for the death penalty rather then rot in prison. He forced society to examine it's own laws and it's own conscience but it is not a sympathetic character study for he killed 2 people in a meaningless robbery. Read this incredible book then watch the movie with Tommie Lee Jones.
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The Executioner's Song
The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (Paperback - April 28, 1998)
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