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Last Words of the Executed

Last Words of the Executed

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Last Words of the Executed

ratings:
3/5 (18 ratings)
Length:
301 pages
Released:
May 15, 2010
ISBN:
9780226202693
Format:
Book

Description

Some beg for forgiveness. Others claim innocence. At least three cheer for their favorite football teams.

Death waits for us all, but only those sentenced to death know the day and the hour—and only they can be sure that their last words will be recorded for posterity. Last Words of the Executed presents an oral history of American capital punishment, as heard from the gallows, the chair, and the gurney.

The product of seven years of extensive research by journalist Robert K. Elder, the book explores the cultural value of these final statements and asks what we can learn from them. We hear from both the famous—such as Nathan Hale, Joe Hill, Ted Bundy, and John Brown—and the forgotten, and their words give us unprecedented glimpses into their lives, their crimes, and the world they inhabited. Organized by era and method of execution, these final statements range from heartfelt to horrific. Some are calls for peace or cries against injustice; others are accepting, confessional, or consoling; still others are venomous, rage-fueled diatribes. Even the chills evoked by some of these last words are brought on in part by the shared humanity we can’t ignore, their reminder that we all come to the same end, regardless of how we arrive there.

Last Words of the Executed is not a political book. Rather, Elder simply asks readers to listen closely to these voices that echo history. The result is a riveting, moving testament from the darkest corners of society.

Released:
May 15, 2010
ISBN:
9780226202693
Format:
Book

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Last Words of the Executed - Robert K. Elder

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What people think about Last Words of the Executed

3.1
18 ratings / 5 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (2/5)
    A collection like this ought to carry some kind of weight of repetition, but it needs uniformity for that, and there isn't enough of it here. Of course historical versus modern last words are going to be differently recorded and reported; that's inevitable. But some of these are "last" last words ("Are you sure you're doing that right?") and some of them are written statements; some of them are clearly more accurate than others; and of course they've all been selected out of a much larger pool, but there's no indication on the part of the editor how they were selected. Without that level of consistency from which to compare, this book can't be anything other than the morbid collection the author claims to want to avoid.
  • (4/5)
    To me the last thoughts and comments of people who know they are about to die is a profoundly interesting topic. What would I say? What would I consider so important that I would want to spend my last moments on earth discussing it? How would I want to be remembered?

    The reality of this book is significantly more mundane than I anticipated. Around 3/4 of the hundreds of entries are Christian platitudes, professions of innocence (even in the face of unshakeable evidence), and apologies to families of victims. That said, there are also many insightful and even moving moments that give you plenty of pause before moving on to the next condemned. They range from philosophical to political to sarcastic and witty. Three of the most thought-provoking:
    I am against this horrible form of murder by the state, but I would rather be standing here for the crime that, so help me God, I never remember committing, than to be sitting down there eagerly waiting to see a man die. Let the state of Illinois take shame upon itself. Goodbye." Edward Brislane, 2/11/1921

    "I have something to say, but not at this time." Grover Cleveland Redding, 6/24/1921

    "You all brought me here to be executed, not to make a speech. That's it." Charles Livingston, 11/21/1997
  • (5/5)
    This is a powerful, well put-together book. Some of the last words were spiteful, some were remorseful, and some were even humorous and had me laughing out loud.
  • (2/5)
    Kind of interesting, but they all started blending together. Every one of them said about the same thing (either "I'm innocent" or "I'm sorry")
  • (3/5)
    Downloaded as a free book from University of Chicago Press. I wasn't sure if I was going to find this interesting, but it sucked me in. The main character in John Green's book [book:Looking for Alaska99561] was obsessed by last words, and since I'd read that the other day I suppose I was primed to find this one interesting.And it is, in a morbid kind of way. Elder tries to keep a journalistic distance from the issue of whether state-inflicted murder is reasonable, but the horror of the whole process comes through loud and clear. For me, the biggest argument against capital punishment is the chance it gives to people to ramble on at length and inflict their last thoughts upon the rest of us: the quality of last words in recent decades was distinctly dodgy. Just lock them up and spare us, for goodness' sake.