- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 30, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226202682
- ISBN-13: 978-0226202686
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #675,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Last Words of the Executed
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From Publishers Weekly
From colonial era public hangings to the last moments before a lethal injection, Northwestern journalism teacher Elder revisits the final words of the condemned, both famous and forgotten. They expressed contrition or angry denial, often accompanied by an argument against capital punishment. Elder calls his book an oral history of the overlooked, the infamous and the forgotten, who speak to a common humanity with their last act on earth. Some considered their words carefully: William Robinson, a Quaker executed in 1659 for protesting Massachusetts's banishment of his co-religionists, said, I suffer not as an evil doer.... I suffer for Christ, in whom I live and in whom I die. Others offer bizarre non sequiturs: in 2002, serial killer Aileen Wuornos proclaimed, I'm sailing with the Rock and I'll be back like 'Independence Day'... big mother ship and all. Elder culled his material from newspaper accounts, prison archives, and religious counselors who transcribed for posterity the final utterances of the roughly 16,000 men and women who've been executed in the United States. The late Studs Terkel contributed an eloquent foreword. (May)
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“This is a dangerous book. Who knows how we will emerge from the encounter? It makes me want to live, use my energies in soul-sized pursuits like justice, like love. One of the psalms says that God collects our tears in a flask—so too does this collection of last words from human beings before they were killed.”
(Sister Helen Prejean)
“This is a powerful, haunting book. Whether you favor or oppose the death penalty, you won’t think about it the same way after reading the last words of the condemned—some remorseful, some spiteful, some humorous, all tragic. Most horrifying is the realization that some of those who claimed innocence until the end probably were telling the truth.”
(Rob Warden, executive director, Center on Wrongful Convictions)
"Knowing something of the deficiencies of the American justice system is useful for leafing through Last Words of the Executed, the final statements of hundreds of Americans who have been condemned through the centuries. . . . The last words are remarkable for their remorse, humour, hatred, resignation, fear and bravado. 'I wish you’d hurry up. I want to get to hell in time for dinner,' a 19th-century Wyoming murderer told his hangman. Some rambled; others were concise. Several blamed the drink; others reasserted innocence, or (especially in recent years) railed against the death penalty. Some accepted their fate. 'If I was y'all, I would have killed me. You know?' said a Texan, who had murdered his son’s former girlfriend and her sister, as he readied himself for lethal injection. America’s diverse heritage is stamped even onto its killers’ final moments."
"The quotes are often poignant or funny (one man before the firing squad requests a bulletproof vest) and often don't register as much more than interesting historical documents from centuries past. But read in aggregate, all that pain piles up. Essentially, Elder has amassed a collection of what people say when they know they are going to die, the final product of what could be seen as psychological torture."
(Jonathan Messinger Time Out Chicago)
“If the book is intellectually engaging as a historical document, then it is emotionally immersive as a series of psychological snapshots.”
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Top Customer Reviews
The format is:
The person's last words
The name of the person
A mini-story snapshot: What they did wrong, perhaps a little of their life story, perhaps unusual info about their execution
The entry on a person may be less than half a page to perhaps two pages. I think it is unfortunate that the "LOOK INSIDE" that Amazon offers does not include some actual entries.
These are the unique stories of individual people facing their final milestone and their final words - often well-considered words.
Crimes committed include murder, treason, robbery, larceny - and even merely refusing to accept banishment in a struggle for religious freedom due to personally held religious beliefs.
The last words may be spoken or a letter written someone, or sometimes more than one letter.
Check out a few of the entries themselves on the book's website (same name as the book) and you can determine from that whether this book is for you. Or even better, since the fonts used are distracting on the book website (at least to me), check out a more-reader-friendly version an excerpts of actual entries on the publisher's website.
The book provides a history of the death penalty in the US, alongside quotes of the last words of those executed. It is a very poignant and insightful book and very much makes you think about the death penalty.
I would recommend this book to anybody interested in the debates around the death penalty.
While it is interesting to see the effect that incarceration and impending execution have had on their psyche, the Last Words themselves are often void of any impact. Some of the convicted use their last opportunity to speak against the death penalty but most simply apologize. Within this collection I would say there about 10 - 15 worthwhile entries.