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Last Words of the Executed

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3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  113 ratings  ·  26 reviews

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 gal

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 30th 2010 by University Of Chicago Press (first published May 15th 2010)
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David Wolinsky
A laugh riot! No, not really... but sometimes. It's a sobering look at the evolution of all forms of capital punishment in the good ol' US of A told through the final words uttered by people just before they fell through the gallows or had the electric chair switched on. The crimes many of these people committed are disturbingly grisly, and the book doesn't attempt to imply that the penalty is just as awful. It just unflinchingly recounts peoples' last words, explains what they were convicted of ...more
Tim
Just received this free UChicago press e-book about last words before executions through American history. The words are followed by short notes of historical consequence. Sorted by method (hanging, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection), they are mostly the words of murders or accused murders, but also include religious, political, and military figures (Mary Dyer, Joe Hill, the Haymarket anarchists, presidential assassins, deserters and German espionage agents among others ...more
Jovi
I picked up "Last Words of the Executed" because I was intrigued by what the soon-to-be-deceased have to say about anything involving the cases they got or found themselves involved in. The methods of execution (namely the noose, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, and lethal injection) presented in the book hardly had any effect on the reactions I have observed while reading the words of the convicted: if a person is sentenced to die by whatever means, we can generally expect a handful o ...more
Laura
An unusual idea for a book, I suppose (yes, it literally is what the title says it is), but somehow it works, and it's more moving than you might expect. Some of the condemned use their last words to say mundane things (stuff like "Go Raiders" -- hoo boy, I'm sure posterity thanks you for that), but many of them speak eloquently as they face death, usually with more equanimity than you or I might have. Of course, as the author concedes, the transcriptions of the oral statements frequently aren't ...more
A.J.
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 Looking for Alaska 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 t
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William B.
Dec 14, 2010 William B. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Last Words, 'famous last words," death, criminals, psychology, sociology
Recommended to William by: News
Shelves: last-words-books
Last Words are fascinating and Last Words of those about to executed are often the most fascinating. Elder has compiled what is the best compilation and portrait of Last Words of executed persons published to date. It is not only of excellent historic and cultural value -- it is a very interesting read. Last Words fascinate many people. When you add to the mix that these are the Last Words of a dark corner of society -- typically murderers or other horrific crimes (society's most repugnant offen ...more
Benjamin
Fascinating on numerous levels.

Terkel's foreword sets things up beautifully. No one knows the time of their death. Whether they be common folk, celebrated authors or respected heads of state (as examples), no one knows the day or the hour. How many last words go unrecorded? Sure, I might not have anything important to say when I slip away, but what about Abraham Lincoln (whose last words are unknown)? And yet, for those we've convicted and sentenced to death, we give them this opportunity! Why?
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blake
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
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Du
3.5 stars. It is always an interesting thing to hear or read someone's last words. In this case they are the last words of a condemned person. Some are funny, some are sad, most are interesting. It is a non fiction book, so unlike fiction I'm not sure you can rate the prose or style. I can state that I found it interesting and am glad I read it.
Erin Carey
I read this book very quickly, which surprised me as it wasn't my usual type of book, namely there wasn't really a "story" to keep me engaged. However, I found the layout very interesting - starting from hangings, to firing squads, gas chamber, electric chair, and finally lethal injection. I also enjoyed learning about the history of each of the types of execution styles. The author did keep me engaged with the anecdotes of each set of last words and I appreciated that he didn't single any out f ...more
Anupam
A novel approach to recording history, it can also be construed as a strong, persuasive and emotionally redolent argument against the death penalty.
Joe
Very interesting book and a fast read. I also appreciated that the author didn't try to turn this political by focusing on supporting or denigrating the death penalty, but rather he let the prisoners' words speak for themselves. A very interesting read that spans quotes from the 1700s to just a few years ago. This is a book you will want to keep on your shelf for after so that you can use it for reference.
David
Picked up this book on a whim, and it was fairly interesting. The title says it all; a collection of the last statements, written and oral, of condemned criminals.

What's surprising is the large number of soon-to-be-executed cons who do not protest their innocence, and the large number who blame alcohol abuse as the sole reason for their misdeeds.
Anna Francesca
Jumping around in the book (which is organized chronologically based on date-of-death) made for an engaging experience, but I didn't feel like digesting it cover-to-cover. I did like seeing the variety of responses that people had to receiving the death penalty: from denial, to apathy, to apology.
Kristin
A long-time friend of Tom's wrote this book, compiling the final words of people executed in our country since colonial days. Rob did a great job of sifting through all of the quotations and back stories to put together a moving collection. Very poignant and thought-provoking. Nice work, Rob!
Stephen Cranney
I had a morbid curiosity about what people had to say right before the state killed them. I was surprised at how many expressed remorse when they had nothing to gain or lose, I think it says something about the humans as naturally good or bad debate.
Judy
Shivery, haunting, poignant. Spans American executions from colonial times to 2009. The last words are diverse in the matter of professed (and sometimes true) innocence, s well as remorse.
Liza Nikitas
ok, ok, i know i have kind of morbid taste. but this book had waaaaay too many quotes from the 17th and 18th centuries and not even modern stuff for my liking. i skimmed over a lot of it.
Herb
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.
Kurt Basham
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")
Mare
engrossing. very few details are given of the executions, but, i confess, i love the gory/gruesome ones, i.e., the botched executions.
Jamie
Interesting read about the evolution of the death penalty and the nature of "last words" speeches in the United States.
Alice Paterra
Fascinating, insightful. Remember, these are human beings about to die, not just faceless bad guys.
Milt
Feb 02, 2013 Milt rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
read on mini UofC digital editions
Amanda
So far I love it.
Katherine
An eye opener!
M. Lynn
M. Lynn marked it as to-read
Dec 09, 2014
Barbara
Barbara marked it as to-read
Dec 09, 2014
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