Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
on 1 May 2003
It would be easy for a casual reader, especially a reader unused to the satirical tradition, to misunderstand this book. Charles Duff's book spends much of its time pretending to be a defence of capital punishment, the better to draw attention to its barbarity, and the wickedness of the arguments enlisted in its support.
Duff himself was a linguist by profession, and wrote a number of useful textbooks on various European languages. (He was especially expert in Spanish, and wrote a study of the classic author Quevedo.) He also wrote a work, "This Human Nature", in the tradition of Winwood Reade's "The Martyrdom Of Man" and H. G. Wells's "A Short History Of The World".
The present book is the work of a civilised, scholarly and humane man. His wit, and it is considerable, is always in the service of his unassuageable anger at the cruelty and pointlessness of capital punishment. When the mask of satire drops, he is often very moving.
The style will strike younger modern readers as quaint. Also, like George Orwell's classic essay "A Hanging", or Arthur Koestler's "Reflections On Hanging", the work, despite its occasional appeal to once-current statistics, will seem, by comparison with modern studies, decidedly unrigorous. It is, however, the work of a great humanitarian. Given that capital punishment remains a regrettable feature of the contemporary United States, the issue is by no means an historical one, even in the developed world.