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The Executioner's Song

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  18,912 ratings  ·  1,306 reviews
In what is arguably his greatest work, 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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Bull Durham I finished it, yet the last line of my review says everything I need to say: ... "in the end I didn't give a shit about anyone"…moreI finished it, yet the last line of my review says everything I need to say: ... "in the end I didn't give a shit about anyone"(less)

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May 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
“Now, the doctor was beside him, pinning a white circle on [Gary] Gilmore’s black shirt, and the doctor stepped back. Father Meersman traced the big sign of the cross, the last act he had to perform. Then, he, too, stepped over the line, and turned around, and looked back at the hooded figure in the chair. The phone began to ring…”
- Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song

This book is something. Yup, it surely is.

The Executioner's Song is one of those oxymoronically-named “non-fiction novels.” In
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
Michael Finocchiaro
I promise to write something longer, but I am truly dismayed by this book for many reasons.
1/ the Mountain West / redneck behavior of Gary, Nicole and all the other Mormon losers in the book as well as the cynical (with crocodile teary-eyes) behavior of Schiller and the press made me physically ill - and I don't feel it truly bothered Mailer at all. I hated every single character excepting Mikal. All the rest were just reprehensible morons. The whole cast is straight out of an Ayn Rand orgy of s
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
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
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20-ce, nonfiction, us, history
What a ******* book! Mind numbingly good. An intellectual grand slam!
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)
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Finished after three years and three copies. Totally worth the thousand pages of time, even with all the gaps and hassle.
Steven Walle
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
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
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book, but it's even better if you're from the area where it takes place. I still have family in Spanish Fork, Utah, where Nicole and Gary lived, and have had cousins who were, and, odds are will be again, inmates at the prison in Point of the Mountain, where Gary was executed in 1978. Even now I am nestled halfway between the truecrime locales of the Hi Fi murders in Ogden, Utah (whose co-perpetrator Dale Pierre plays an inadvertent role in EXECUTIONER'S SONG), and the high school ...more

As with most of my favorite books, it's hard for me to know what to say about this one. Or rather, it's hard to be succinct.

In some ways, it's a very simple story. There's this guy, Gary Gilmore, who by his mid-30s has spent most of his life in juvenile detentions and jails in the American west. He's released into the custody of extended family in Utah, and while he seems a bit rough around the edges, he can be charming and funny. He calls Thomas Mann Tom Mann as if he knows him, and he talks ab
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
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my third attempt at reading “The Executioner’s Song”. I had given up at around 600 pages the first time. And I could read no more than 150 pages the second time. The reason on both occasions was the length of the novel - it is more than a 1000 pages long.

This is what Bukowski wrote about Mailer:

"God, he just writes on and on. There's no force, no humor. I don't understand it. Just a pushing out of the word, any word, anything ....."

This quote holds true for some portions of "The Exec
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 cir ...more
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
L.S. Popovich
I have heard it said that Norman Mailer is inconsistent within novels, whereas ordinary writers are inconsistent novel to novel. I have always found this true when reading his books. He was a prolific all-American novelist, who repeatedly tried to write The Great American novel, and experimented with form and content. His first so-called great work was The Naked and the Dead, still infamous, which I found by turns inspired and unconscionable. Good luck trying to fix Mailer's moral standpoint in ...more
Jan 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: true-crime
Capote was so right. This isn't writing; it's typing. If you want to know about this case, I suggest SHOT IN THE HEART by Mikal Gilmore. ...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
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
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
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
How this won the Pulitzer prize is beyond me. Bloated, dull and nowhere even close to being a patch on the amazing In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I felt sickened and angry for almost the entire time reading this piece of crap. How people could love this vile, ordinary killer is beyond me. He killed two men in cold blood, deprived wives of their husbands, and children of their fathers, yet people are concerned that he is comfortable before his execution. Are you fucking kidding me? What about th ...more
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 a g
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, crucial
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
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. ...more
Daniel Villines
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
As indicated by the title, The Executioner's Song is primarily about capital punishment. It raises the serious and thoughtful question as to whether or not society should be killing those it deems to be undesirable. After all, we enter into a covenant with society and agree to give up certain freedoms in exchange for certain protections, and the protection of life could be considered one of society’s fundamental duties. And yet, society regularly takes the life of some of those that break the la ...more
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure: I am not now nor have I ever been a proponent of the death penalty. There are some very good reasons it should be abolished.. least of which is that there is no evidence it serves as a deterrent to anyone other than the person being executed (for obvious reasons). This is the story of killer Gary Gilmore. In the summer of 1976, he robbed two men and then shot them both execution style. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the state of Utah. What made this case so c ...more
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
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
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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.

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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.” 11 likes
“He did a terrible thing and eliminating him would have left the world tidier. Or so goes the logic of the last fifty years of American justice. We throw away flawed people, people who have made terrible mistakes, with regularity and great alacrity. We jail drug dealers for decades, and we execute killers. We want them away. Out of sight.” 4 likes
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