Author: Stuart Banner
Date Released: 2002
Page Count: 395
Isbn10 Code: 0674007514
Isbn13 Code: 9780674007512
Amazon.com Review Stuart Banner's The Death Penalty is a richly detailed overview of American attitudes toward and implementation of capital punishment throughout its past. Banner decries what he sees as today's prevailing "smug condescension" to history, and states that executing a fellow human in the 17th and 18th centuries, though exponentially more common than today, was "just as momentous" an act. He traces changing technology and venues as well as the relatively constant arguments--legal, philosophical, and religious--of proponents and opponents. The book is rich with fascinating sidelights, among them the chilling practice of "symbolic" executions, the idea that dissections, viewed as a sort of punishment beyond death, were thought to act as deterrents to capital crime, and how the rise of newspapers as a mass medium hastened, in part, the demise of public hangings. The Death Penaltyis free of polemic and cant, admirably disinterested, and at once rigorous yet thoroughly accessible. --H. O'Billovich From Publishers Weekly In this well-researched and clear account, Washington University law professor Banner charts how and why this country went from having one of the world's mildest punitive systems to one of its harshest. In colonial America, criminals were hanged before large crowds in elaborate rituals that included sermons and prayers. All serious crimes robbery, arson, counterfeiting were capital offenses. But gradually, opposition to execution took root and, by the 1780s, it was considered by many to be a feudal relic incompatible with human progress; resulting penal reforms significantly reduced the use of capital punishment. By the Civil War, a prolonged debate led three northern states to abolish it, while the rest limited its application to murderers (the South's opinions on the matter remained more or less unchanged). As 19th-century "elites" withdrew from the crowds at public executions, the mood turned against them altogether; when executions were moved inside prison walls, they no longer presented the public with their traditional (and gruesome) brand of deterrence. But, as Banner shows, in the last few decades, the number of executions has surged. Today, he contends, the death penalty is "an emotionally charged political issue administered within a legal framework so unworkable that it satisfie[s] no one." (12 halftones, not seen) (Mar.)Forecast: If booksellers shelve this with the recently reissued Legal Lynching by Jesse Jackson Sr. and Jesse Jackson Jr. and Ivan Solotaroff's The Last Face You'll Ever See, they'll see increased sales, for those impassioned on the subject will seek them out. And with its original and sound research, this volume should have staying power.Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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