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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Death Penalty: An American History

I am incredibly interested in the death penalty debate. My opinion is not for this blog (I have said before that this is, after all, a book blog and not a political-viewpoint blog), but I do, however, believe in being as well-informed as possible when making a decision about how I feel on certain matters. This is what led me to pick up the often-recommended The Death Penalty: An American History by Stuart Banner.

This book is the ultimate history of the death penalty in America. It begins as early as America does, examining the rationale behind the death penalty, the movement from public to private executions, and why the movement to abolish it came about. Originally the death penalty was in existence to deter crime, to punish offenders, and to exact retribution. Only the crimes that were being punished were often as simple as stealing a loaf of bread, which many agreed later was not on par with rape and murder. It's also no secret that there is a racial component to who receives the death penalty, and in recent years there has been an abundance of convictions overturned due to DNA non-matches. It's fair to ask, "From where have we come, and where are we going with this practice?"

I was super impressed at the comprehensiveness of this book. It was incredibly in-depth and the historical coverage was expansive. I had no idea that the history of the death penalty was so wide-ranging and, at times, so uncontested. This book was eye-opening as to the rituals that we so commonly accept on a regular basis.

What I also appreciated about this history was its unwillingness to take sides or show bias. It is clear that Banner is unwilling to allow his politics to come into play in this history book; his desire to show an objective portrait of the road to present-day is commendable and quite useful. I am happy that I have taken the time to understand the historical implications of a practice in such hot debate, and it has helped inform my thoughts while providing me with both sides of the argument.

Kindle copy on left, hard copy on right.

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