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on May 11, 2001
One of the best in-print works on the history of torture and basic human nastiness. The focus with this book has been on the visual, and there is at least one picture on every page. The authors are a little short on the how-to info, but anybody with the time and the inclination can figure out the details pretty easily.
I also found it interesting that the authors spend the last 52 pages of this work---over a quarter of its 192 pages---focused on the dilemas of torture and execution in modern society. While entirely worthy of philosophical discussion, contemporary cruelty pales in comparison to that of previous societies, and as such is less interesting.
Visually, the only book currently available that can compete is Michael Kerrigan's The Instruments of Torture. Since Kerrigan's book is also stronger on the verbal side of things, I'd recommend that as a starting point for those with an interest in the subject. Which isn't to say you shouldn't get this book (4 stars, baby), just that there is a better work out there that you should get first.
For those in search of more detailed verbal accounts of torture techniques, I highly recommend Daniel Mannix's exemplary work, The History of Torture. Or, if you can find a copy, Fuad Ramses' masterwork Ancient Weird Religious Rituals, which goes into great detail about Old World cruelties such as the Blood Feast.
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I was looking for information on various types of execution for a writing project and assumed this book would explain the how it killed, why it was used, and when in was used of various executions. I only read about a third of the way in before giving up on the book. The author focused more on the blotched beheadings and the innocents killed rather than providing the rational behind why the punishment was used. Hangings were portrayed as always slow strangulation, but I knew trapdoor-style hanging broke the neck. (I did see that this was covered much later in the book, but the initial section on hanging didn't mention this.)

He often did describe what offenses merited that type of execution. However, he only gave a limited view of most of the topics. He only talked about the Bible reasons for stoning--yet stoning is used even today. I got a better description of how and why stoning is done in a story about a modern Muslim woman being stoned than I did in this book. That book gave a chilling but not gory description. This book just went with gory. Each page had huge pictures of death and torture.

There was little of real substance about that method in the text. Sometimes we're told when a method was no longer used, but there was no timeline so I could know if a certain execution was in use in a certain place at a certain time. It was useless to me for real research, and it made me feel like I was a watcher at a public execution--reading of death for entertainment purposes. So I stopped reading it.
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VINE VOICEon January 20, 2001
I must confess that I received and read "The History of Torture and Execution" because I failed to send in my response card in time to a book club. I have at best only a mild interest in the ingenious ways which man has developed to inflict pain and suffering on his fellow man.
Jean Kellaway chooses the time-honored Time/Life books approach to her subject---lots of big color pictures, a couple of paragraphs of execrable prose on her subject, and the requisite coda denouncing the practices she recounts with ready glee.
More disturbing to me than the numerous images of broken and burning victims were the numerous errors Kellaway makes in covering the various torture methods employed down through the ages. She describes the knout employed by Peter the Great's thugs as being a type of flogging. This is true, but the truly hideous aspect of the application of the knout was that the victim was simultaneously roasted over a fire. Thus, the wounds inflicted by the knout were exposed to flame, increasing the agony of the victim tenfold.
She relays the old canard about Marie Antoinette's responding to the Paris mob's cries for bread with "Let them eat cake"; this has been discredited far too many times to recall by professional historians not given to producing picture books on torture.
She is curiously soft on the crimes of Communists, a lot well known for their hell-spawned creativity in the art of cruelty. At one point, she actually justifies the Stalinist gulags (survival rate-10 percent) by pointing out that Stalin himself did time in a czarist camp and that this was the way he chose to industrialize Russia. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" tells a different story.
In short, this book is a complete travesty and I suspect no one will be stupid enough to purchase it outright. I intend to send my copy to Dr. Kevorkian; I'm certain the numerous depictions of sadism will adorn his cell marvelously.
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on June 7, 2003
This book is more of an overview of torture and execution than it is a history. A very good introduction/starting point to the depraved ways of mankind (man-un-kind). However, since I spent [item price] on this I don't have the luxery of refering a better title to you, just yet, sorry. But on the sunny side there are quite a few pretty pictures to look at and go "wow that's gross." If you are looking for an introduction to the worst parts of human creativity, by all means, get this (I understand the paperback has been released and there is no need for this large sum of money to be spent, thanks alot guys). And there is so much more that could have been said about some of the practices in here, I was so disapointed to see that impalement barely had one sentance written on it. I remember hearing that impalement wasn't done on sharpened stakes, instead they were screwed into the back, victim proped up, face to the sky and then the weight of his own body would pull him down (thus also puncturing everything on the way through). I wanted to see if that was true but like I said prior, one sentance. A bad aspect to any history book however, is when the author puts their own two cents in. We all know this is not a pretty subject and we do not need to be reminded. Like I said, this is a good introduction to torture and execution, but sadly, that's all it is.
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on February 11, 2010
For anyone who is interested in the dark history of our world, this is a very informative book to have in your collection. This is not just a history of torture and execution, but punishment and anything that has to do with ways to die. I have to say that as humans, this volume shows that, if anything, we are trying to perfect death and killing.
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on April 18, 2006
This is not a fun book to read. Absolutely not.

Because it shows the human race from its very worst sides, our bizarre creativity and unbelievably superior ingenuity when it comes to figuring out new ways and methods to torture and kill our fellow man. The human being is capable of amazing achievements - of course we all know that - but we're just as skilled in being evil as we are in being good, and Kellaway's book shows the reader a part of human nature that many people probably will have great difficulties accepting.

It's actually quite mind-boggling how brutal man can be, but there's no point ignoring reality, and no matter how disturbing the book might be; its content is still of utmost importance, and, well, it doesn't get a whole lot easier to deal with knowing that many of the barbaric practices are still being carried out in this day and age. Studying the human race without including its evil sides is completely pointless, and hopefully The History of Torture and Execution will make people think a little more about this world and its people. These thoughts might be both dark and negative, but then again, isn't that sometimes the exact kind of thoughts needed for change to occur?

However, there is more or less no depth whatsoever in this book. Every page has large and impressive illustrations and photographs, and if these images had been removed the result would have been a book with extremely few pages. Sure, Kellaway makes sure to include as much human suffering as possible on each page and in each chapter, but not once is the reader offered any sort of depth or real perspective, and is quite irritating, to say the least. Human behavior and belief systems are complicated matters, and there are more sides to even the goriest of stories, but you'll have to look elsewhere if you're interested in these sides.

For instance, the horrific ethnic cleansing that have taken place in Africa during the last few years are mentioned in two (2) sentences, and this is simply embarrassing. The lack of depth and extremely selective content really does lower the end result, and no, unfortunately this is not a well-written book at all. Regardless of its highly important content.
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on February 20, 2014
Wonderful devices these clever ancient Folks invented. People are so averse to pain and suffering now. How boring and stupid! Nothing like the prospect of sitting on the Judas Chair to wake one up. We need more of this kind of Christianity to bring some excitement back into the dull, overly compassionate world.
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on April 30, 2013
My grandson is really into history, even the gory battles and thrives on knowing more about warfare, prisoners and things like that. He was happy with the book.
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on March 8, 2005
If you have no idea. If you have never read widely or if you are fairly unaware of man's inhumanity to man as applied by the great arbiter of justice: the law, then this is the book for you.

However, if you are reasonably well read, or have some idea of the creativity man wastes on causing pain to his fellow man, then it is a total waste of money. I bought it as my first book on a subject that I know little about and yet found nothing new and some incorrect and if i wanted to look at pictures I could have looked up El Jazeer.

Perhaps the "Golden Book of the History of Judicial Murder" might be a better title.

I was and am quite disappointed.
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on February 16, 2015
Wonderful!! Came so much sooner than expected.
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