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The Executioner's Song

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  15,730 Ratings  ·  1,008 Reviews
In what is arguably his greatest book, America's most heroically ambitious writer follows the short, blighted career of Gary Gilmore, an intractably violent product of America's prisons who became notorious for two reasons: first, for robbing two men in 1976, then killing them in cold blood; and, second, after being tried and convicted, for insisting on dying for his crime ...more
Paperback, 1056 pages
Published April 28th 1998 by Vintage Books USA (first published October 30th 1979)
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May 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
This book is something. Yup, it surely is.

The Executioner's Song is one of those oxymoronically-named "non-fiction novels." In a non-fiction novel - the classic of the genre being Truman Capote's In Cold Blood - a journalist takes his research as far as humanly possible, right up to the boundary of unknown human thought, and then fills those gaps with reasoned speculation. It's kind of shady. Well, it's really shady, especially since it's never clear what is hard-fact and what is guesswork. Sha
Paul Bryant
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-crime

I never got round to reviewing this mighty five star masterpiece before because I thought it spoke for itself. But I just reread one long chapter and was again knocked out, it’s just beautiful stuff. Not having read anything else by stormin’ Norman except his dubious, lubricious “biography” of Marilyn Monroe (I liked it but the pictures were better, I mean to say, he had about 8 wives himself and he was moaning out loud that he’d never married Marilyn, really it was a bit gross) I had thought he
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nothing like the sun
Recommended to Mariel by: invisible sun
Gary Gilmore's died in photographs are black and white. They are all mugshots. Gray faced still if they were to be in color mug shots of crimes of who knows what. Living or dead. Gray smirks and flat lines and nothing reaching the eyes because they are always somewhere else. Some live to get to heaven and another hopes it won't be as bad the next go around... Crimes to be and crimes of the soul. The photograph captions might say, "We always knew he'd be up to no good." The inside caption says, " ...more
Rachel Elizabeth
There is a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, about racial and class injustice in the prison system, that asks what I have come to realize is the hardest and most important question about capital punishment. It is not "does a guilty criminal deserve to die?" but "does the state have a right to kill?". This is a basic and obvious question, but it seems to take a backseat to the first question in discussions about the death penalty. The argument over capital punishment is as much or more gut driven as i ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books; Pulitzer Winner in 1989
Long read. 1,050 pages of history about the life and death of an American that was executed by firing squad in 1977 in Utah. This is Norman Mailer's answer to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood that was published in 1969 and started a new literary classification called non-fiction novels.

I read this with a lawyer as a reading buddy. We spent 14 days (1 day per part). Here is the discussion thread containing our daily thoughts. Sorry if some of the phrases are in Filipino.

Gary Mark Gilmore (1940-1977)
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of lovers, epics, convicts, murder, and the hollywood exploitation of it all
I can't resist the deliciously apparent metaphor provided by the circumstance that it took me pretty much exactly from Christmas to Easter to read this epic, 1100 page book about the life and death of Gary Gilmore.

1100 pages! I've only read one longer book in my life, The Glass Bead Game, which was so good it took less than a week to read. Obviously, this book wasn't in the same league.

But it was much better than expected, since I'd otherwise been nursing a nascent hatred of Mailer initially sp
Diamond Cowboy
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is a faboulas account of Gary Mark Gillmore and those who shaped his life. Gary was a thief from the beginning and served over half his life in prison. Coming out of prison as a thirtyfive year old man, not knowing how to work, cary on relationships, or do any of the day to day tasks we all face, Gary kills two people. This decision gets him the firing squad in Utah. While he is on death row many family members and lawers as well as the press are trying to sta
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, 20-ce, nonfiction, history
What a ******* book! Mind numbingly good. An intellectual grand slam!
Jan 11, 2017 added it
Dželatova pesma je na tankoj granici između romana i onog što se kod nas zove dokumentarna proza. Utoliko verovatno nije baš najreprezentativniji primer Majlerovog (stvarno ne mogu da prelazim na „Mejler“ dok me ne nateraju) stila. Ali jeste zanimljiva i na svoj način kvalitetna knjiga. Hiljadu i sto strana deluje kao malo previše za poslednjih godinu dana u životu sitnog kriminalca, ali ovo je zapravo vrlo detaljan prikaz dva određena segmenta američkog društva s kraja sedamdesetih: u pitanju s ...more
Apr 15, 2008 added it
I should start out by admitting that I'm wary of inordinately long books. I decided that this, my first Mailer, had a reputation such that I would give it a shot.
Then, a few days ago, a sensation akin to exasperation and/or fatigue set in which I don't think related to the quality of Mailer's prose. I was on page 802, and had a moment of terrifying clarity in which it became real for me that I still had another 250 pages to go. Thereafter, I started to find it difficult to maintain the proper p
Jason Pettus
Dec 10, 2010 rated it liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called literary classics, then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label

Essay #52: The Executioner's Song (1980), by Norman Mailer

The story in a nutshell:
One of the last great hurrahs from the so-called "New Journalism" of the coun
Jul 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Top Five Executioner's Songs

5. Bodies, Drowning Pool
4. Heads Will Roll, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
3. How I Could Just Kill a Man, Cypress Hill
2. Party Rock, LMFAO
1. The Lord High Executioner's Song, The Mikado, Gilbert & Sullivan

Problem is that this is not just 1100 pages of a dude in a black hood doing the watusi to LMFAO. Look, I get what Mailer's doing here. He's using the case of murderer Gary Gilmore to raise big questions about good and evil and free will, and it's a smart thing to do and he does
Oct 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law
In the Summer of 1976, Max Jensen had been married one year. He had just finished his first year of law school. He managed to get a job working nights at a gas station in Utah. One night, Gary Gilmore pulled in and put a gun to Jensen's head. He took what money was on hand. Then Gilmore said "This one's for me" and shot Jensen in the head.

It the Summer of 1977. I had been married one year. I had just finished my first year of law school and, not being well-connected, managed to get a job working
Dave Cullen
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
I won't rate this, because I only got about a hundred pages. I couldn't make it any further, though. I disliked the writing style intensely.
Jun 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book is a total slog. The Goodreads description calls it meticulous; I call it boring. It kind of lands in gray area between fiction and non-fiction, and it's pretty obvious that neither Mailer nor Schiller (the principal "researcher"/journalist/producer/opportunist) actually did a face-to-face interview with Gilmore.
As a subject, Gilmore just isn't that interesting. One of the journalists suggests that Gilmore is "mediocrity enlarged by history," and that pretty much sums it up. He was a m
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crucial, 2014
Holy shit. I picked this off the shelf after a trip to SLC. Knew Utah was related. Didn't know I'd devour 1000 pages so fast. I think this should be required reading in the US of A. As a lover of Vollmann, and unfamiliar with any of Mailer's novels or longer works, I now compare his non-judgemental style and pathos to WTV, only he writes in a manner any one who made it to HS could understand. I dunno. Gonna be foisting this fucker on many people in the near future. I seriously got a near-wrist s ...more
Joseph W.D. Nicolello
Feb 09, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: winter
It is the end of a year marked by poverty, isolation, an inability to raise funds to continue studying Linguistics at Brooklyn College, and abortive attempt at academia in Asshole, Pennsylvania, and nothing to look forward to but the prospects of snagging a paralegal degree while one by one copyrighting my manuscripts, wishing I was elsewhere, staring at my books in a cramped room which an Okcupid (Why must this Cupid merely be 'OK') date recently pointed out there was a hole in the wall and a s ...more
Fawaz Ali
Oct 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: scrap-list
In the Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer chronicles the life of Gary Gilmore; a man responsible for murdering two people in Utah in 1976. The book takes a particular interest in the events surrounding the murders, trial and execution of Gary Gilmore and follows the lives of people who have come into contact with him.

The first part of the book leading to the murders is engaging; whereas the second part is dull; as it provides lengthy accounts of secondary characters that are irrelevant to the sto
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The law, and the randomness of it, geographically and demographically, has always disturbed me. Additionally, the comingling of it from disparate precedents only exacerbates it, and the courtroom turns itself into a "Wheel of Fortune."

Money is made by layering one brick of precepts on top of another. What you end up with is an expensive wall without doors, made poorly and soon to crumble. There is a way out but only for the officers of jurisprudence and their fraternity. If you want to leave wit
Oct 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
I had this book on my list as "must-read classic". I don't know where that came from. It was one of the most boring books I ever read. I cannot believe I ploughed through > 1,000 pages of excrutiatingly detailed narration of the true crimes, trial and execution of Gary Gilmore. I didn't give anything away; it's on the book jacket. After reading how each person dressed, how they were raised (even the minor players whose names you can forget right afterwards!), their exact words in every exact ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m not a big aficionado of criminal chronicles. And even such scrupulous and voluminous analysis of crime as The Executioner's Song didn’t really move me deeply.
“He was ready to argue there was no rational way you could justify the death penalty, except to admit it was absolute revenge. If that, he would say, was the foundation of the criminal justice system, then we had a pretty sick system.”
All those thieves, robbers, rapists, murderers do their obnoxious crimes and when caught they declare t
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Mailer dug into the world of Gary Gilmore and it's a none to happy place. He must have had just a plethora of access to this guy. This is Mailer's attempt to do the Capote non-fiction as narrative and he pulls it off. As stark and alarming as In Cold Blood is, Mailer's gift for the English language, his attention to detail, the length of the novel (it's a long one) and the subject matter make Executioner's Song the "classic of the this genre."
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who like to read about bad things happening to mediocre people
Boy was this a read, up there with prairyerth on shoe size. i felt if i didn't finish this extended case history of one man's journey through the court, parole and prison systems of america then mailer was going to punch my ears. once gilmore does the double deed and ends up in the pokey the yarn stretches a bit thin (much like THE ONION FIELD) with court details that start to veer into true crime territory. What keeps it interesting from start to finish is the relationship between Gary Gilmore ...more
I'm working on this thing where I'm going to stop feeling guilty for getting bored with books and I'm going to abandon them with... well, reckless abandon.

The thing is, this is not a boring book, not at all. But as can happen with books that are nearly as long as the Old Testament, when I lose my momentum, it can be hard to jump back in. That's what happened here. A few thoughts from my reading of the first 333 pages, though... (Straight from my Google Drafts folder where I was keeping notes fo
Aug 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Much more of an ambitious book than I realized when I began it.  Was an engrossing tale of a man released from prison, his inability to deal with the outside world and his surprising successes and shocking downfall.  But the book goes on as an expose of media frenzy, the legal system, the judicial and correctional systems and American pop culture of the 1970s.

I also think Mailer wrote so well that there were revelations about America in the 70s he may not have realized he was preserving.  For on
Jul 28, 2012 rated it liked it
What you suspect is wrong with the true crime two-pounder The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer is confirmed when you watch the movie adaptation: The purposely visible fingerprints of the Lawrence Schiller, the man who worked his ass off to turn the unprecedented story of a killer sentenced to death into a made-for-TV movie.

Gary Gilmore had spent most of his life incarcerated by the mid-1970s when he was released from prison and into the hands of his once adoring cousin Brenda in Utah. She set
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I can’t remember a book I’ve read that evoked so many emotions and thoughts. This is clearly one of the finest novels of its type and, perhaps, one of the finest novels of any genre. A masterpiece.

Original post here.

My preferred genre is fiction, and I hardly ever touch non-fiction books unless it is absolutely necessary (read: for work or for reference purposes). So it's a first time for me to pick up a non-fiction book just for the sheer pleasure of it. I buddy-read this book with Kuya Doni, the (senior) book club moderator, for exactly 14 days.

The Executioner's Song is the true account of the life, conviction and eventually, execution of Gary Mark Gilmore, a 30-something convicted fel
Dec 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
It has been years since I read Norman Mailer's {book:The Naked and The Dead}, an outstanding novel of World War II and a difficult act to follow. I've started some of his other books but never really got into them. He's had a couple published recently, {book:Harlot's Ghost} and {book:Oswald's Tale}, that have been reviewed quite generously, so I thought it might be time to take another look. In 1979, he published The Executioner's Song That book piqued my interest because it ostensibly dealt wit ...more
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Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once.
More about Norman Mailer...

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“Historical, religious, and existential treatises suggest that for some persons at some times, it is rational not to avoid physical death at all costs. Indeed the spark of humanity can maximize its essence by choosing an alternative that preserves the greatest dignity and some tranquility of mind.” 9 likes
“but when the call came from Shirley Pedler to help in organizing the Utah Coalition Against the Death Penalty, she knew she would go out in the world again with her freaky blond hair, blond to everyone’s disbelief—at the age of fifty-four, go out in her denims and chin-length-hanging-down-straight vanilla hair to that Salt Lake world where nobody would ever make the mistake of thinking she was a native Utah lady inasmuch as Utah was the Beehive State. The girls went big for vertical hair-dos, pure monuments to shellac.” 3 likes
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