The Death Penalty
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The Death Penalty : An American History

3.88 (98 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

The death penalty arouses our passions as does few other issues. Some view taking another person's life as just and reasonable punishment while others see it as an inhumane and barbaric act. But the intensity of feeling that capital punishment provokes often obscures its long and varied history in this country.

Now, for the first time, we have a comprehensive history of the death penalty in the United States. Law professor Stuart Banner tells the story of how, over four centuries, dramatic changes have taken place in the ways capital punishment has been administered and experienced. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the penalty was standard for a laundry list of crimes--from adultery to murder, from arson to stealing horses. Hangings were public events, staged before audiences numbering in the thousands, attended by women and men, young and old, black and white alike. Early on, the gruesome spectacle had explicitly religious purposes--an event replete with sermons, confessions, and last minute penitence--to promote the salvation of both the condemned and the crowd. Through the nineteenth century, the execution became desacralized, increasingly secular and private, in response to changing mores. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ironically, as it has become a quiet, sanitary, technological procedure, the death penalty is as divisive as ever.

By recreating what it was like to be the condemned, the executioner, and the spectator, Banner moves beyond the debates, to give us an unprecedented understanding of capital punishment's many meanings. As nearly four thousand inmates are now on death row, and almost one hundred are currently being executed each year, the furious debate is unlikely to diminish. The Death Penalty is invaluable in understanding the American way of the ultimate punishment.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 408 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 27.94mm | 581g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0674010833
  • 9780674010833
  • 1,362,925

Table of contents

* Abbreviations * Introduction *1. Terror, Blood, and Repentance *2. Hanging Day *3. Degrees of Death *4. The Origins of Opposition *5. Northern Reform, Southern Retention *6. Into the Jail Yard *7. Technological Cures *8. Decline *9. To the Supreme Court *10. Resurrection * Epilogue * Appendix: Counting Executions * Notes * Acknowledgments * Index
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Review quote

[Banner] deftly balances history and politics, crafting a book that will be valuable to anyone interested in knowing more about capital punishment, no matter what his or her views are on the ethical issues surrounding the topic. -- David Pitt Booklist 20020215 In this well-researched and clear account...Banner charts how and why this country went from having one of the world's mildest punitive systems to one of its harshest. Publishers Weekly 20020304 Stuart Banner's book is fine and balanced and important. His lucid history of this grim subject is scrupulously accurate...It is refreshingly free of the tendentiousness and the sensationalism that this subject invites. -- Richard A. Posner New Republic 20020404 [The] contrast between the past and the present can now be seen with great clarity thanks to...Stuart Banner and his comprehensive book, The Death Penalty...American historians have been slow to undertake anything like a full-scale study of the subject...Banner's book does much to fill [the gaps]. His book is an important and comprehensive...treatment of the topic. -- Hugo Adam Bedau Boston Review 20020401 Despite the gruesome nature of the book's topic, it is difficult to stop reading. Banner's research is fascinating, his writing style compelling. Given the emotional nature of the subject (few people known to me are wishy-washy about whether the death penalty is moral or immoral), Banner walks the line of neutrality skillfully, without seeming evasive. -- Steve Weinberg Legal Times 20020408 Stuart Banner's The Death Penalty is a tour de force, remarkable for its neutrality as it traces the ways in which the death penalty has been applied, and for what kinds of crimes, from the Colonial era to the present. Banner...writes like a historian who believes perspective is best gained by dispassionately setting out what happened and letting everyone come to his or her own conclusions. I think, in this book, that works wonderfully. On a subject in which emotions run so high, it seems awfully useful to have a dispassionate voice. After all, if Banner allowed his own feelings on the death penalty--pro, con or somewhere in the middle--to be known, the book easily could be dismissed as a diatribe. He doesn't, and it can't. -- Judith Neuman Beck San Jose Mercury News 20020630 Law professor Banner...offers a persuasive examination of the evolution of capital punishment from Colonial times onward. He makes clear that the death penalty has possessed generally consistent support from the US populace, although changes in the sensibilities of juries, executioners, legal theoreticians, and judges have occurred...Highly recommended. -- R. C. Cottrell Choice 20021101 Stuart Banner aptly illustrates in The Death Penalty, like the nation, the death penalty has changed with the times...Banner's account spotlights a number of interesting trends in American history...Mostly evenhanded in the tour he provides through the history of the death penalty and its role in and reflection of American society, he has managed to provide an accessible look at what is a profoundly controversial and complicated subject. -- Steven Martinovich Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel 20020707 "For centuries," Stuart Banner tells us, "Americans had been proud to possess a criminal-justice system that made less use of the death penalty than just about any other place on the globe, including the countries of western Europe." But no longer. Now we possess "one of the harshest criminal codes in the world." The Death Penalty helps explain that turnaround, but only in the course of a complicated story in which different factors emerge at different times to play often unforeseeable roles...[This is a] superbly told history. -- Paul Rosenberg Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News 20020623 Stuart Banner's lucid, richly researched book brings us, for the first time, a comprehensive history of American capital punishment from colonial times to the present. He describes the practices that characterized the institution at different periods, elucidates their ritual purposes and social meanings, and identifies the forces that led to their transformation. The book's well-ordered narrative is interspersed with individual case histories, that give flesh and blood to the account. -- David Garland Times Literary Supplement 20021025 [An] informative, even-handed, chillingly fascinating account of why and how the U.S. government and many state governments decided to sponsor executions of criminals--even though innocent defendants might die, too. -- Jane Henderson St. Louis Post-Dispatch 20021201 Stuart Banner's The Death Penalty is a splendidly objective achievement. Delightfully written, free of academic pretense, liberally sprinkled with apt references from contemporary sources, the book exhaustively explores the multifaceted evolution of America's penal practices. -- Elsbeth Bothe Baltimore Sun 20030921 As an historical account of capital punishment in America, the book is unmatched...The Death Penalty: An American History is a remarkable achievement. There should be little doubt that it rightfully belongs alongside the very best scholarship ever written on the controversial subject. -- Beau Breslin Criminal Justice Review
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About Stuart Banner

Stuart Banner is Norman Abrams Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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Rating details

98 ratings
3.88 out of 5 stars
5 24% (24)
4 44% (43)
3 28% (27)
2 4% (4)
1 0% (0)
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