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Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty [Hardcover]

Austin Sarat

Price: £15.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

21 July 2014
"How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection," wrote Justice Scalia, in a concurring opinion that denied review of a Texas death penalty case. But is it quiet? Renewed and vigorous debate over the death penalty has erupted as DNA testing has proven that many on death row are in fact innocent. In this debate, however, the guilty have been forgotten. In his new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, renowned legal scholar Austin Sarat describes just how unquiet death by execution can be. If we assume a death row prisoner is guilty, how can we be sure that we are fulfilling the Supreme Court's mandate to ensure that his execution is "the mere extinguishment of life" and not a cruel and unusual punishment? Gruesome Spectacles is a history of botched, mismanaged, and painful executions in the U.S. from 1890-2010. Using new research, Sarat traces the evolution of methods of execution that were employed during this time, and were meant to improve on the methods that went before, from hanging or firing squad to electrocution to gas and lethal injection. Even though each of these technologies was developed to "perfect" state killing by decreasing the chance of a cruel death, an estimated three percent of all American executions went awry in one way or another. Sarat recounts the gripping and truly gruesome stories of some of these deaths - stories obscured by history and to some extent, the popular press.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (21 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804789169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804789165
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 437,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"America has no more incisive scholar of capital punishment than Austin Sarat, who always has something fresh to say. Gruesome Spectacles offers readers new and provocative insights." - Scott Turow, author of Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty "Austin Sarat's spellbinding book has captured the spirit of his agile mind. Gruesome Spectacles is provocatively written and sure to keep readers keenly interested in the captivating stories of many death row prisoners. This book will hook you from the first chapter and continue to fascinate you throughout its journey. A must-read." - Charles Ogletree, author of All Deliberate Speed and The Presumption of Guilt "We have harnessed the power to annihilate life on earth. Yet we still can't seem to extinguish, quickly, painlessly, and reliability, a single human life. Gruesome Spectacles tells us why. With his bright, clear, and extra-ordinary prose, Austin Sarat raises many disturbing and profound questions - not only about botched executions - but about State authorized killings made on behalf of the American people. A gripping and provocative read." - Richard Moran, Mount Holyoke College

About the Author

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. Sarat has written for numerous academic and trade publications, and his books include: "When the State Kills" (2001), "Mercy on Trial" (2005) and "Re-imagining To Kill a Mockingbird: Family, Community, and the Possibility of Equal Justice under Law" (2013).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely 14 May 2014
By E.P. - Published on
Intriguing historical accounts provide the context for current events - a great choice for everyone wishing to be well informed. This is a timely text that manages to remain neutral on a controversial topic while still providing plenty of very readable content. Whatever your stance on the death penalty, this is a must read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely 15 May 2014
By J.M. - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Publication of this thought-provoking and challenging account could not have been timelier given the recent headlines reporting the “horrific” execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. The book questions the legitimacy of capital punishment in the United States given a 3 to 7 percent rate of gruesomely botched executions. It carefully records the various complications experienced with executions whether by hanging, electrocution, gas or lethal injection, and emphasizes that botched executions have accompanies each supposed technological “enhancement” to method. Anyone contemplating the future of the death penalty in our changing times should read Sarat’s book and ask themselves if it is ever acceptable for a society to risk the gruesome spectacle of a botched execution.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cultural Autopsy 17 May 2014
By Glenn B. - Published on
A vivid and unsparing history of the Death Penalty told in blood and burnt flesh. And while you can't miss the scream for abolition silently building behind its dispassionate surface, Sarat and his co-authors are after something more ambitious - an examination of how our culture struggles to maintain a coherent understanding of itself, how it tortures language and constructs specious conceptions of pain to avoid facing the fundamental incompatibility of the Constitution's prohibition of state cruelty and the business of state killing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Voyeuer in death 30 May 2014
By Gerald Farber - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
No book can adequately express the horror of state sanctioned killing. This book tries but pictures are worth a 1000 words and for the squeamish there are none. What is here is a fascinating and scholarly approach to our barbaric customs and rituals.

The author explains that the rituals are of recent origin starting in the middle of the 19th Century. The middle class was first coming in to its own and sought to demonstrate a moral superiority over the lower classes by distinguishing themselves from the "common mob". To appeal to this set of voters Governments began experimenting with more "painless" methods of killing (none work). Other cosmetic touches including doing away with "public" executions, forbidding pictures or any other method of recording the barbarity and putting the killing behind prison walls were all designed to take the "heat off the official killers, and turn the scrutiny, not on the killing itself but rather on the process, the crime details and the imagined "retributive" benefits when an execution takes place.

As Mr. Sarat and his team of researchers show the State has a stake (pardon the expression) in these sanctified killings. Politicians fall over each other to show that they are "tough" on crime and criminals.But the key question that Sarat and his team wanted answered was whether an execution benefitted the penalty proponents or their opposition. Until we end state sanctioned killing the question wii remain unanswered.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars accessible, interesting, and timely 16 May 2014
By Jeff - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book raises some really important questions about the death penalty and its meaning in a civilized first world country. Sarat draws from historical cases and philosophical texts on power, justice, and sovereignty to problematize the moral and ethical conditions for the state killing its own. In presenting these cases, Sarat does a fair job of trying to remain objective and fair, though the questions he asks somewhat allude to his position--a position I personally agree with. This book is clearly written and accessible without compromising the complexity of the issues being addressed. A delightful read.
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