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A deeply reported, searingly honest portrait of the death penalty in Texas—and what it tells us about crime and punishment in America WINNER OF THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS AWARD In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: the country's death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were consider A deeply reported, searingly honest portrait of the death penalty in Texas—and what it tells us about crime and punishment in America WINNER OF THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS AWARD In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: the country's death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were considered part of the cultural fabric, and a dark history of lynching was masked by gauzy visions of a tough-on-crime frontier. When executions resumed, Texas quickly became the nationwide leader in carrying out the punishment. Then, amid a larger wave of criminal justice reform, came the death penalty's decline, a trend so durable that even in Texas the punishment appears again close to extinction. In Let the Lord Sort Them, Maurice Chammah charts the rise and fall of capital punishment through the eyes of those it touched. We meet Elsa Alcala, the orphaned daughter of a Mexican American family who found her calling as a prosecutor in the nation's death penalty capital, before becoming a judge on the state's highest court. We meet Danalynn Recer, a lawyer who became obsessively devoted to unearthing the life stories of men who committed terrible crimes, and fought for mercy in courtrooms across the state. We meet death row prisoners--many of them once-famous figures like Henry Lee Lucas, Gary Graham, and Karla Faye Tucker--along with their families and the families of their victims. And we meet the executioners, who struggle openly with what society has asked them to do. In tracing these interconnected lives against the rise of mass incarceration in Texas and the country as a whole, Chammah explores what the persistence of the death penalty tells us about forgiveness and retribution, fairness and justice, history and myth. Written with intimacy and grace, Let the Lord Sort Them is the definitive portrait of a particularly American institution.


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A deeply reported, searingly honest portrait of the death penalty in Texas—and what it tells us about crime and punishment in America WINNER OF THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS AWARD In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: the country's death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were consider A deeply reported, searingly honest portrait of the death penalty in Texas—and what it tells us about crime and punishment in America WINNER OF THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS AWARD In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: the country's death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were considered part of the cultural fabric, and a dark history of lynching was masked by gauzy visions of a tough-on-crime frontier. When executions resumed, Texas quickly became the nationwide leader in carrying out the punishment. Then, amid a larger wave of criminal justice reform, came the death penalty's decline, a trend so durable that even in Texas the punishment appears again close to extinction. In Let the Lord Sort Them, Maurice Chammah charts the rise and fall of capital punishment through the eyes of those it touched. We meet Elsa Alcala, the orphaned daughter of a Mexican American family who found her calling as a prosecutor in the nation's death penalty capital, before becoming a judge on the state's highest court. We meet Danalynn Recer, a lawyer who became obsessively devoted to unearthing the life stories of men who committed terrible crimes, and fought for mercy in courtrooms across the state. We meet death row prisoners--many of them once-famous figures like Henry Lee Lucas, Gary Graham, and Karla Faye Tucker--along with their families and the families of their victims. And we meet the executioners, who struggle openly with what society has asked them to do. In tracing these interconnected lives against the rise of mass incarceration in Texas and the country as a whole, Chammah explores what the persistence of the death penalty tells us about forgiveness and retribution, fairness and justice, history and myth. Written with intimacy and grace, Let the Lord Sort Them is the definitive portrait of a particularly American institution.

30 review for Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty

  1. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    I'm torn about this one. This book was incredibly well researched and I found parts of it extremely compelling. I especially appreciated the early sections of this on Furman and Gregg - I found it particularly interesting to read about the Jurek case as part of Gregg and the issues that arose by making the same argument in all five consolidated cases. Tying the history of capital punishment, particularly in the south, to the United States' long and horrific history of lynchings was also very wel I'm torn about this one. This book was incredibly well researched and I found parts of it extremely compelling. I especially appreciated the early sections of this on Furman and Gregg - I found it particularly interesting to read about the Jurek case as part of Gregg and the issues that arose by making the same argument in all five consolidated cases. Tying the history of capital punishment, particularly in the south, to the United States' long and horrific history of lynchings was also very well done. I enjoyed getting to know the different lawyers introduced here, in all their flaws, but often I found the personal stories broken up and disjointed - a thread would be introduced, then dropped for another story, and reintroduced on the other side - in a way that wasn't particularly effective. The point of the interrupting story wasn't always clear and frequently served more as a distraction. I also wondered at the choice of Texas as the focus, given the subtitle of "The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty." Use of capital punishment is falling in Texas, that's absolutely true, but while it's falling, it's falling far faster in other states. Texas is one of the handful of states still actively pursuing frequently executions, and has been one of the only states to carry out executions during the pandemic (in addition to the federal government's execution spree, I believe Missouri was only other state to have done so since COVID lockdowns began last March). As of the day I'm writing this review, there are currently five executions scheduled in Texas for the first half of 2021. The death penalty is certainly less frequent there, but as long as it remains the most active execution state and the biggest outlier among US states, I don't know that enough time was spent on how things are really changing in Texas to have driven the point home effectively. More comparison with other states - the ones that are changing faster, and the others that, like Texas, are changing, but at a much slower pace, would have been helpful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    hmmm...I'm hovering between a 2.5 and 3 star rating for this one. I'll start with what I appreciate about the book. It's extensively researched and I can definitely appreciate the work that goes into interviewing people, sifting through archives, and parsing the language of court cases. It's also a really accessible account of the legal and political landscape surrounding the death penalty in Texas (and nationally to a certain extent). The author doesn't get too bogged down in the legal details hmmm...I'm hovering between a 2.5 and 3 star rating for this one. I'll start with what I appreciate about the book. It's extensively researched and I can definitely appreciate the work that goes into interviewing people, sifting through archives, and parsing the language of court cases. It's also a really accessible account of the legal and political landscape surrounding the death penalty in Texas (and nationally to a certain extent). The author doesn't get too bogged down in the legal details so I think this book ultimately is a good overview for someone who has a mild interest in understanding the legal mechanics of the judicial system. My number one complaint is that the book feels extremely disjointed and hard to follow most of the time. The chapters seem like they would be better off as standalone articles; there's not really any connection between the various sections. When there were connections between multiple chapters, I found it hard to follow. The author jumped between timeframes in weird and unpredictable ways. I found myself going back a few pages many times in order to understand what was going on when the author rapidly flipped from one anecdote to the next. I also feel like the title is an inaccurate description of the book. This wasn't so much charting the "rise and fall" of the death penalty, but was more of a biographical account of the lawyers, judges, and death row inmates in Texas. I missed the theme of "rise and fall." I struggled to find the overarching theme or argument from the author. Again, this book was more autobiographical/ethnographical. Finally, at times I felt like it was overwritten. Particularly when talking about the lawyers involved in the cases. It's interesting to read about both prosecutor and defense attorney's responses to the cases, but there was too much anecdotal information that wasn't necessary to further the alleged theme of the book. This isn't a bad book, but it's not the best either. Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Annalise Nakoneczny

    The death penalty is not an easy topic to think, write, or talk about, but this book is an excellent place to start learning about it. Chammah moves through the history of the death penalty in the U. S., particularly in Texas, with tact and compassion. He produces a balanced report that offers both the atrocities committed and the injustices of the death penalty. The legal jargon is made easy to understand, and his explanation of the crimes committed are never sensationalized. I learned so much The death penalty is not an easy topic to think, write, or talk about, but this book is an excellent place to start learning about it. Chammah moves through the history of the death penalty in the U. S., particularly in Texas, with tact and compassion. He produces a balanced report that offers both the atrocities committed and the injustices of the death penalty. The legal jargon is made easy to understand, and his explanation of the crimes committed are never sensationalized. I learned so much from this book, and I was so grieved by much of it. I am so glad I read it. This topic is vitally important.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sara Broad

    Maurice Chammah's "Let the Lord Sort Them" is a non-fiction work about the death penalty in the United States with a particular focus on Texas. I recently finished Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough, which is about how Texas laid the groundwork for our current system of mass incarceration, and "Let the Lord Sort Them" was a really great extension to what I learned about in that book. Chammah highlights some of the people in Texas prosecuting and defending alleged felons, the lives of the alleged fel Maurice Chammah's "Let the Lord Sort Them" is a non-fiction work about the death penalty in the United States with a particular focus on Texas. I recently finished Robert Perkinson's Texas Tough, which is about how Texas laid the groundwork for our current system of mass incarceration, and "Let the Lord Sort Them" was a really great extension to what I learned about in that book. Chammah highlights some of the people in Texas prosecuting and defending alleged felons, the lives of the alleged felons themselves and their families, and the continuing struggle to outlaw legal executions. Overall, this was a really interesting and well-researched book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    I found this book to be very engaging. The author’s storytelling is clear and enjoyable with subtleties of irony and humor. He has handled the disturbing subject matter with a care for the human situation. The Epilogue is particularly poignant

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liam Green

    An astonishing and exhaustively researched social history that, by looking at the death penalty in the state with which it's most commonly associated, manages to speak volumes about the issue in total. Chammah writes about all parties involved in the various corners of crime and punishment that form this book's chapters in an insightful manner that respects their dignity no matter their role in various criminal or legal proceedings. An astonishing and exhaustively researched social history that, by looking at the death penalty in the state with which it's most commonly associated, manages to speak volumes about the issue in total. Chammah writes about all parties involved in the various corners of crime and punishment that form this book's chapters in an insightful manner that respects their dignity no matter their role in various criminal or legal proceedings.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This takes what became ordinary or forgotten and examines it in its full moral context, fleshing out the people dedicated to resisting the ultimate power of the state. Great journalism, and a great read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Magin

    This book lays out a convincing argument against the death penalty by examining the arguments for it and pointing out their many flaws. It also shows many of its proponents in Texas--W chief among them--were callous with human life on a massive scale.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A very thoroughly researched and interesting book. My main critique would be that it lacked a clear and thorough overarching thesis to structure the narrative. It's called "the Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty," but I still feel like I have a hazy understanding of that rise and fall, especially regarding its fall. I think he needed to map out the causes of the decline on a national level rather than just tell a more anecdotal story about Texas. That criticism aside, there's a lot to like about A very thoroughly researched and interesting book. My main critique would be that it lacked a clear and thorough overarching thesis to structure the narrative. It's called "the Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty," but I still feel like I have a hazy understanding of that rise and fall, especially regarding its fall. I think he needed to map out the causes of the decline on a national level rather than just tell a more anecdotal story about Texas. That criticism aside, there's a lot to like about this book. Chammah evokes the stories of lawyers, perpetrators, and victims very well, evoking their complex human stories. He starts with the USSC's decision in the 1970s to bar the death penalty, which was really more of an invitation to improve it and make it fairer rather than to abolish it. States reformed laws to permit more jury consideration of mitigating factors and the background of the defendants, which of course allowed all kinds of biases to infect the process and create racial and other disparities. After its reinstitution by the SC, the death penalty's popularity increased in the 80s and 90s, but since then it has fallen off a bit. Chammah doesn't systematically examine the reasons for this, but they appear to be: A. Cost, especially to small municipalities B. Rising awareness of the racial discrepancy in the death penalty and C. The decline of the broader War on Crime/Drugs crazes. He does a much better job taking you inside the lives of people on all sides of the death penalty in Texas, giving the reader a tactile, vivid awareness of the realities of this institution. This book did expand my conflicted feelings toward anti-death penalty activists and lawyers. On one hand, the death penalty has been and remained biased against the poor and against minorities, it's a waste of money and human resources, and it doesn't deter crime. I greatly admire people like Bryan Stevenson and his EJI for giving real representation to these defendants, many of whom had unimaginably horrible lives and received completely inadequate representation. However, most people on death row did do something horrendous, and there's a tendency among many of these lawyers and activists to maybe see too much of the good side of these people and to sympathize with them too much. That may be a natural human reaction to A. being the last thing between a human being and death and B. Just being around these people a lot. Still, things like selling trinkets made by death row inmates to pay for legal expenses kind of rubbed me the wrong way; I can't imagine how victims' families would feel about that. They also go a little far with their metaphors: for example, there's clearly a continuity between lynchings/Jim Crow and the racial discrepancies of the death penalty, but they aren't the same thing. The vast majority of lynching victims were innocent, and by definition there was no due process; in contrast, the vast majority of executed inmates were guilty, and they usually received extensive due process (although not consistently in the initial trials). I'm glad these people get representation, and I remain anti-death penalty, but I can't shed the feeling that these smart, driven, socially conscious people could be doing more good helping different people. Definitely recommend this book to those interested in criminal justice, Supreme Court cases, and books like Just Mercy. This book does a great job with moral complexity, and I think it can speak to people on all sides of the debate. This book isn't as profoundly moving as Just Mercy, but it's a strong companion piece.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robert Stevens

    While this book by Maurice Chammah covers a heavy topic, the death penalty in Texas, the book itself is not written in a way that is a chore to get through. A major takeaway for me is how important defense lawyers are and how many defendants do not get quality lawyers, which is not good for people or justice. Also, this book points out how many aspects go overlooked and appeals courts do not always consider the injustice done in lower courts. The perspectives of politicians, judges, lawyers, adv While this book by Maurice Chammah covers a heavy topic, the death penalty in Texas, the book itself is not written in a way that is a chore to get through. A major takeaway for me is how important defense lawyers are and how many defendants do not get quality lawyers, which is not good for people or justice. Also, this book points out how many aspects go overlooked and appeals courts do not always consider the injustice done in lower courts. The perspectives of politicians, judges, lawyers, advocates, juries (one of the strongest parts of the book comes from discussing the personal toll death penalty cases had on jurists) and criminals was a nice and important component to show the humanity and subjective nature of some areas of crime and punishment. The move from retribution and pushing the symbolic nature of the death penalty to redemption and rehabilitation signals the fall of the death penalty despite executions still happening. The death penalty is a systemic failure. Change is up to us as we do indeed write the story.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    His central thesis is that the death penalty is declining in use ( despite the best efforts of the former guy to kill as many people as possible before exiting.) because attitudes have changed considerably. He traces those changes through the life stories of a couple of lawyers and any number of cases, from the SCOTUS cases of the 1970’a, when the death penalty seemed on the point of ending, through the Reagan and Bush years, when executions increased dramatically along with the entire prison sy His central thesis is that the death penalty is declining in use ( despite the best efforts of the former guy to kill as many people as possible before exiting.) because attitudes have changed considerably. He traces those changes through the life stories of a couple of lawyers and any number of cases, from the SCOTUS cases of the 1970’a, when the death penalty seemed on the point of ending, through the Reagan and Bush years, when executions increased dramatically along with the entire prison system, to today’s declining cases. This is I think an important book. Subtracting a star because the writing is sometimes clunky or unclear. (Pronouns: they need antecedents.) it is compelling, though, full of insight and really good stories. He has an eye for the telling detail.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A very eye-opening and engaging book! Also fantastic title

  13. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor Guzzio

    I loved this book! But frankly I almost passed on what I thought was going to be a dull and dry, narrow in scope and depressing read. I was wrong big time. I found the topic to be interesting in ways I did not expect, the writing sensitive and insightful, and the stories compelling. Let the Lord Sort Them, serves to educate us on a uniquely American institution that deserves our attention. It gives us a well researched legal history of the death penalty, which I found surprisingly readable, as we I loved this book! But frankly I almost passed on what I thought was going to be a dull and dry, narrow in scope and depressing read. I was wrong big time. I found the topic to be interesting in ways I did not expect, the writing sensitive and insightful, and the stories compelling. Let the Lord Sort Them, serves to educate us on a uniquely American institution that deserves our attention. It gives us a well researched legal history of the death penalty, which I found surprisingly readable, as well as the stories of so many people affected by it; and not just the ones you would expect--- prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges, and those condemned to die, but their families and the families of their victims. We see perhaps for the first time, an intimate account of the men and women who carry out the demands of our criminal justice system. Correction officers, prison guards, executioners, death row lawyers and chaplains, government officials, activists, and even journalists who may cover their stories. While we see the worst in human nature, injustice, racism, violence, cruelty, in Chammah's capable hands we also see kindness, mercy and hope. In Chammah's own words, Let The Lord sort Them “grants people access to each other,” access to people we otherwise might never know, and shows us something of who we are as Americans. This is important reading. A story that needs to be heard. I highly recommend it for the general public, but especially for those in the mental health field, and legal professions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hayley DeRoche

    For fans of well-researched narrative nonfiction, this is a great read alongside other works about mass incarceration, the criminal justice system, race and racism in America, and history. Highly recommend.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kasey Lawson

    “The decline could partially be attributed to public outrage over wrongful convictions, and partially to skilled defense lawyering. Partially it was libertarian talk of high costs and big government and Christian talk of human redemption and liberal talk of racial inequality. You could debate which of these factors were more or less influential, but all had played a role. Even if the death penalty were to remain legally viable for the long term, and even if executions continued, it would take an “The decline could partially be attributed to public outrage over wrongful convictions, and partially to skilled defense lawyering. Partially it was libertarian talk of high costs and big government and Christian talk of human redemption and liberal talk of racial inequality. You could debate which of these factors were more or less influential, but all had played a role. Even if the death penalty were to remain legally viable for the long term, and even if executions continued, it would take an entirely new chapter in the country’s political and cultural life to bring the punishment back to prominence.”

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Moyes

    Really interesting book, but hard to follow the organization. Each chapter was a standalone story, but then sometimes the chapters connected, and sometimes they didn't? It felt like it was approached from a journalism standpoint instead of history book or sociology book standpoint. At first I was very annoyed about the amount of detail that it went into about various characters, and I felt like I was being pushed and pulled between taking the point of view of perpetrators, victims, prosecutors, Really interesting book, but hard to follow the organization. Each chapter was a standalone story, but then sometimes the chapters connected, and sometimes they didn't? It felt like it was approached from a journalism standpoint instead of history book or sociology book standpoint. At first I was very annoyed about the amount of detail that it went into about various characters, and I felt like I was being pushed and pulled between taking the point of view of perpetrators, victims, prosecutors, defense lawyers, jurors, etc. Over time I came to accept that the form served a function--the death penalty is extremely complex, and you can look at any case from a number of different viewpoints and feel empathy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Is the death penalty a deterrent? Who "qualifies"? Who are the decision makers at all levels? This compelling book's focus is the death penalty in Texas from differing perspectives including those who made practice procedural runs for the first lethal injection, the families on both sides who watch (or don't), the crowds outside the prison, prison workers and the legal team. Of course the case for or against the death penalty, the question of morals and humane treatment and legislation are discu Is the death penalty a deterrent? Who "qualifies"? Who are the decision makers at all levels? This compelling book's focus is the death penalty in Texas from differing perspectives including those who made practice procedural runs for the first lethal injection, the families on both sides who watch (or don't), the crowds outside the prison, prison workers and the legal team. Of course the case for or against the death penalty, the question of morals and humane treatment and legislation are discussed as well as the actual procedure and injection effects on the prisoner and those around him or her. Judge Elsa Alcala and lawyer Danalynn Recer figure prominently throughout as we are given glimpses into their emotions and push for what they believed in. Racial discrimination is another important discussion point in the book and as is shown has a lot of bearing on the outcomes of trials and imprisonment and sentences. Mentions of last words and last meals add poignancy to the very sobering topic...they make it even more real. It is fascinating to read about those who are physically involved in the deaths and how they do what they do and the toll it takes on them. Another aspect I found intriguing was how several infamous prisoners faced their deaths. A lot of history is included here, too. Be sure to read the thorough chapter notes at the back. The depth of research involved in this book is staggering. My sincere thank you to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this riveting and moving read in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paul Cohen

    Anyone concerned with justice in this country should read this important and deeply informed book, which is as essential as such classics on the death penalty as Raymond Bonner’s Anatomy of Injustice. While the book is written in a journalistic, almost novelistic, style that will be accessible to the general public, its extensive section of notes and sources at the end provides ample support for all of the book’s facts and claims. Chammah makes his narrative concrete by focusing on a small selec Anyone concerned with justice in this country should read this important and deeply informed book, which is as essential as such classics on the death penalty as Raymond Bonner’s Anatomy of Injustice. While the book is written in a journalistic, almost novelistic, style that will be accessible to the general public, its extensive section of notes and sources at the end provides ample support for all of the book’s facts and claims. Chammah makes his narrative concrete by focusing on a small selection of specific cases and individuals, but they are expertly chosen to represent the various issues which need discussion. He closes the book with a prominent attorney’s observation that trial lawyers are storytellers, but that, unlike a literary storyteller, “a lawyer cannot conclude the story. She uses the story to leave the jury or the judge to favor the conclusion she wants, but then she must step back and wait for the conclusion: a decision in her favor or not.” Ultimately, Chammah writes, “it is up to all of us to decide the ending.” Like it or not, we all have the responsibility to decide whether capital punishment is the right thing for our society. This is literally a life-or-death decision. Chammah’s excellent book gives us the tools “to decide the ending” for ourselves.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John Bishop

    The author, Maurice Chammah, paints a compelling picture of the past, current, and potential future of the death penalty in the American criminal justice system. A largely even-handed approach to the subject matter and the people who color the pages of this book, Chammah lays out how and why America came to romanticize "frontier justice" and how our attitudes toward capital punishment are changing. Chammah largely focuses on the stories of the prosecutors and defense attorneys who have battled o The author, Maurice Chammah, paints a compelling picture of the past, current, and potential future of the death penalty in the American criminal justice system. A largely even-handed approach to the subject matter and the people who color the pages of this book, Chammah lays out how and why America came to romanticize "frontier justice" and how our attitudes toward capital punishment are changing. Chammah largely focuses on the stories of the prosecutors and defense attorneys who have battled over the death penalty but paints a slightly more favorable light on those who are "caught in the middle" on the issue. This is not a quarrel with the book, but it simply highlights the fact that the reader should determine for themselves where exactly they stand on the issue - as the subjects of the book have done in their own differing ways. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dominique

    Very well researched and I appreciated the work that was put into it. However, with all the different interviews and stories, it often felt very disjointed. I also didn’t realize that it would almost solely be focused on Texas. I would have loved to see a bit more on the history behind the death penalty, as well as a closer look at ALL states that still have it and why. It just seemed more like a biography of the inmates and lawyers involved in the Texas cases he chose to highlight, which made i Very well researched and I appreciated the work that was put into it. However, with all the different interviews and stories, it often felt very disjointed. I also didn’t realize that it would almost solely be focused on Texas. I would have loved to see a bit more on the history behind the death penalty, as well as a closer look at ALL states that still have it and why. It just seemed more like a biography of the inmates and lawyers involved in the Texas cases he chose to highlight, which made it kind of a chore to get through.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    There's always a word I hate to read in the summary of a work of non fiction and that word is "searing". I don't know why it annoys me so much, I think it is just code for a book that tackles controversial and/or politically charged topics. I used to be a supporter of the death penalty in my callow youth, but as I have moved left I have become strongly opposed to capital punishment. I have read a lot about it and the ultimate penalty the law has to offer is decreasing all the time in terms of it There's always a word I hate to read in the summary of a work of non fiction and that word is "searing". I don't know why it annoys me so much, I think it is just code for a book that tackles controversial and/or politically charged topics. I used to be a supporter of the death penalty in my callow youth, but as I have moved left I have become strongly opposed to capital punishment. I have read a lot about it and the ultimate penalty the law has to offer is decreasing all the time in terms of its use here in the US. As I have read on this subject, there is a common pattern that emerges. We hear about the crime and often times these are heinous acts of barbarity and whether it is the intent or not, they make one think that the death penalty is entirely appropriate. This is a natural reaction and surely, if a loved one of mine suffered such a fate I would want the perpetrator to be executed and probably, if I were honest, in a way that was cruel and unusual. But that is why we need to look at this as a more nuanced issue and not simply allow the grieving loved ones to set sentencing policy. After a description of the crime, the book delves into the cases more deeply, through the eyes of the lawyers and the systems themselves. When we look into this it is clear that there are many issues that need to be considered, especially when the sentence of life without parole is now more widely available. It is clear that the death penalty is highly political and the entire system, in this narrative, considers the heart of death penalty country: Texas. It is an interesting take on this subject about which so much has been written and it's certainly interesting to hear the lawyers side primarily. At the end though, I didn't feel that I had been "seared" by the honesty, or even had my mind changed at all. It was interesting to fill in the background from this point of view and consider this as a political and lawyering issue rather than dwelling on some of the more moral questions, although these are touched upon as well. An interesting addition to the literature on the subject for sure. I wonder if any minds will be changed as the death penalty seems, although not nearly soon enough for me, to be falling into disuse.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alannah Balfour

    Must-read for those of us disturbed by state-sponsored murder, in all its forms. "At the trial of Juan Quintero, prosecutors told the story of a villain who kills the heroic police officer and will kill again unless the jury, the new heroes of the story, step in and vanquish him with a death sentence, delivering justice to Johnson's grieving family and saving the community from future harm. But the jury was drawn to Danalynn Recer's story, in which Quintero was the protagonist, struggling to esca Must-read for those of us disturbed by state-sponsored murder, in all its forms. "At the trial of Juan Quintero, prosecutors told the story of a villain who kills the heroic police officer and will kill again unless the jury, the new heroes of the story, step in and vanquish him with a death sentence, delivering justice to Johnson's grieving family and saving the community from future harm. But the jury was drawn to Danalynn Recer's story, in which Quintero was the protagonist, struggling to escape the abuse of his alcoholic father and immigrating to the United States in homes of making a better life, and then, threatened with the sudden undoing of that life, shooting the officer in a moment of panic. It made sense to them that such a man would immediately feel remorseful and hope to spend the rest of his life making up for that terrible moment if only they showed him mercy, Neither story was objectively true; they were two different visions of the same information, each entangled in webs of particular beliefs and cultural influences, each shaped by forces only partially understood by the storyteller herself."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claire Vola

    3.5/5 I was very interested in reading a book about this extremely controversial topic, and while I did enjoy some aspects, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I really enjoyed the first third of the book, which included the history of the death penalty in Texas starting in the 1970s, and how it has evolved since then. However, once our real life characters started to get introduced, I felt myself drifting off a bit. The timeline was a little fuzzy, as we would start to read about one person, then 3.5/5 I was very interested in reading a book about this extremely controversial topic, and while I did enjoy some aspects, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I really enjoyed the first third of the book, which included the history of the death penalty in Texas starting in the 1970s, and how it has evolved since then. However, once our real life characters started to get introduced, I felt myself drifting off a bit. The timeline was a little fuzzy, as we would start to read about one person, then it would jump to another in the middle of a story, then jump back to the original person. I was hoping this book would be more about the actual death penalty, as the title literally stated “The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty,” but besides the first third or so, we didn’t learn much about the death penalty. It was instead a book about first hand accounts from all the people mentioned in the synopsis. While this book was exceptionally researched, I felt like the title was misleading and I wanted more from it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    A look at the death penalty in this country and all its implications focusing primarily on the Huntsville prison in Texas from the 1970's to the present. The author gives a vivid and humanistic look at the inmates, their jailers and groups like the Texas Resource Center who sent young attorneys to help with getting a stay of execution or last minute appeals. They worked tirelessly winning some and sadly attending the last minutes of their client's lives with others. Even now, there are groups wh A look at the death penalty in this country and all its implications focusing primarily on the Huntsville prison in Texas from the 1970's to the present. The author gives a vivid and humanistic look at the inmates, their jailers and groups like the Texas Resource Center who sent young attorneys to help with getting a stay of execution or last minute appeals. They worked tirelessly winning some and sadly attending the last minutes of their client's lives with others. Even now, there are groups who attend every scheduled execution at Huntsville to protest and pray outside those formidable walls. Maurice Chammah is a journalist from Texas who gives a passionate and well-researched account and history of capital punishment and leaves it up to the reader to decide if this is well dispensed justice or a morally unacceptable part of our system. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina

    This book by Maurice Chammah was a great read! I have been a fan of Chammah’s work ever since reading articles written by him for the Marshall Project, and this book did not disappoint. It was clear that the author did extensive research on the subjects of the book, and the interviews he featured were interesting and insightful. I would have liked to see more focus on the criminal cases he mentioned in the book but I understand that the primary focus of the novel was the lawyers working on these This book by Maurice Chammah was a great read! I have been a fan of Chammah’s work ever since reading articles written by him for the Marshall Project, and this book did not disappoint. It was clear that the author did extensive research on the subjects of the book, and the interviews he featured were interesting and insightful. I would have liked to see more focus on the criminal cases he mentioned in the book but I understand that the primary focus of the novel was the lawyers working on these cases. I rated the book 3 stars because I agree with another reviewer in that the book did seem disjointed at times and some of the parts did not connect well with each other in my opinion. Thank you to Random House and Crown Publishing for this ARC!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ron Scrogham

    When the Supreme Court allowed the Texas application of capital punishment, which partly dependent upon a calculation of "future dangerousness" of a defendant, it paved the way for Texas to be the most prolific executioner in the United States. As capital punishment continues to decline approval, one can reasonable predict that Texas will be the last of the states to abolish the death penalty. Its fierce independence and its intoxication with the myth of Texas frontier justice ensures this. Cham When the Supreme Court allowed the Texas application of capital punishment, which partly dependent upon a calculation of "future dangerousness" of a defendant, it paved the way for Texas to be the most prolific executioner in the United States. As capital punishment continues to decline approval, one can reasonable predict that Texas will be the last of the states to abolish the death penalty. Its fierce independence and its intoxication with the myth of Texas frontier justice ensures this. Chammah creates a narrative of multiple protagonists that tells of the United States' embrace of the death penalty with Texas as its most enthusiastic executioner. Hopefully, this will book will add to the momentum of ending this abhorrent practice.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Roxanne

    I am from Calif and one of the items on the ballot a long time ago was voting for or against the death penalty. I voted for it. I do not know in the long run if if deterred crime or not. This book is most interesting because it talks about the death penalty especially in Texas but across the nation also. It comes from the perpective of prosecuters, judges, people who deal with this in the prisons, the prisoners themselves and their families. This book gave me a lot to think to think about. I hav I am from Calif and one of the items on the ballot a long time ago was voting for or against the death penalty. I voted for it. I do not know in the long run if if deterred crime or not. This book is most interesting because it talks about the death penalty especially in Texas but across the nation also. It comes from the perpective of prosecuters, judges, people who deal with this in the prisons, the prisoners themselves and their families. This book gave me a lot to think to think about. I have not changed my mind. But it would be far better if our society did not have not murders to start with.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    This is a moving, well-researched book telling the story of capital punishment in Texas. The author is unflinching in his portrayal of what is required to carry out the death penalty in a legal and physical sense. It covers an impressive span of time, basically whole professional careers, and only one state, but it's the state you would cover for this subject. At times, I found my mind wandering when reading the long descriptions of how difficult it was for lawyers to balance work and personal l This is a moving, well-researched book telling the story of capital punishment in Texas. The author is unflinching in his portrayal of what is required to carry out the death penalty in a legal and physical sense. It covers an impressive span of time, basically whole professional careers, and only one state, but it's the state you would cover for this subject. At times, I found my mind wandering when reading the long descriptions of how difficult it was for lawyers to balance work and personal lives. This book goes well beyond banalities and surface discussion of the issue to present profound reflection on the subject.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Smyth

    A very balance view of capital punishment with the focus on Texas. The book effectively leads you through the use of capital punishment starting with the Supreme Court ruling of cruel and unusual punishment, Texas establishing state guidelines on how to institute it to a reduction of it's use in the current day. The book introduces you to capital punishment from the view of all parties involved (procecutor, defense attorney, appeal judge, activist groups attempting to eliminate its use, the accu A very balance view of capital punishment with the focus on Texas. The book effectively leads you through the use of capital punishment starting with the Supreme Court ruling of cruel and unusual punishment, Texas establishing state guidelines on how to institute it to a reduction of it's use in the current day. The book introduces you to capital punishment from the view of all parties involved (procecutor, defense attorney, appeal judge, activist groups attempting to eliminate its use, the accused and the victim). impressive.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hernandez

    Essential reading - just wow. This book is a fabulous illustration of social construction. He does not shy away from the ways the criminal justice system and the death penalty explicitly are deeply racist to the core - indeed, this is one of the core arguments of the book. I found this book challenging in the best of ways. Some folks have suggested the flow or organization leaves something to be desired - totally a preference thing but I enjoyed the choppiness (how my brain works) and thought it Essential reading - just wow. This book is a fabulous illustration of social construction. He does not shy away from the ways the criminal justice system and the death penalty explicitly are deeply racist to the core - indeed, this is one of the core arguments of the book. I found this book challenging in the best of ways. Some folks have suggested the flow or organization leaves something to be desired - totally a preference thing but I enjoyed the choppiness (how my brain works) and thought it all flowed together well.

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