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Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  541 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
America's leading writer about the law takes a close, incisive look at one of society's most vexing legal issues

Scott Turow is known to millions as the author of peerless novels about the troubling regions of experience where law and reality intersect. In "real life," as a respected criminal lawyer, he has been involved with the death penalty for more than a decade, includ
ebook, 176 pages
Published August 24th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2003)
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Larry Bassett
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death-penalty
I am on the thin book rampage, a revolution against thick books. I have these thin books. Why shouldn’t I read them? This particular is not only thin (164 pages) but is a spin off from my last book that was also about the death penalty, A Saint on Death Row. That one left me feeling a little flat so I am hoping Scott Turow’s Ultimate Punishment will perk me up.

When I start a new book I very often read several GR reviews just to get a lay of the land. And sometimes I need help to get it. In readi
Feb 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's OK. This is a lawyer's contemplation. It should not be confused with philosophical contemplation. As a lawyer, Turow is excellent. He spots issues. He sees different points of view. He even persuasively puts on arguments on both sides, and convincingly reaches his own conclusions using his political and prosecutorial experiences. But don't expect any profound insight and meditative breakthroughs. His use of examples is sparse and a little confusing.

The book raises more subjects than it res
Jonathan Maas
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
See things from many sides on this difficult question

Think you're for the death penalty? Read this book and you may not be.

Think you're against the death penalty? Read this book and you may not be.

This is a difficult question with many sides - and Scott Turow tries to find them all. From mistaken identity, to bias, to the fact that not all crimes are considered the same by juries - to criminals whom this world would be better without.

There are a lot of questions in this book - and though Scott T
Paul Eckert
Nov 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scott Turow was part of a committee appointed by then-Illinois governor George Ryan to examine capital punishment and how it can be improved, or if should be abolished altogether. Ultimate Punishment is Turow’s experience on this panel, which spent 2 years investigating capital punishment, coupled with his other experiences as a lawyer.

Luckily, Turow is not just another extremist advocating only one side. He approaches the issue by carefully examining the consequences of having a death penalty
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Turow was asked by the Governor of Illinois to participate in a commission to review and recommend reforms for capital punishment. I liked his self-label of being a death penalty agnostic and can probably apply it to myself. He addressed many facets of the capital punishment system including the investigation, eligibility, the prosecutions decision to seek the death penalty, the trial, and review of the sentencing.

At the end of the book I was no more certain about my stance on the death penalty
Jan 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very thought-provoking book on the death penalty. Turow is best known for his legal novels, but he is also an accomplished and well-respected lawyer. This book recounts his time on a commission in Illinois reviewing the death penalty both philosophically and in practical application. While it did not change my mind as far as supporting the death penalty in theory, it did enlighten me to flaws in the system that need to be corrected as we go forward.
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Strong argument for monitoring of cases where the defendant has been remanded to death. Actual factual examples of cases before the Illinois Commission on the Death Penalty that were overturned due to several improper criminanl procedures, including suppression of evidence, trumped up charges, lies, deliberate with holding of information, filing of false reports and includes issues that the victims have to contend with. Recommended.
Aug 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting stuff. I listened to the audio version. One point that Turow makes is that our founding fathers recognized slavery and capital punishment. While we no longer agree with slavery, has our opinion on capital punishment changed as well?
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law
A strangely insubstantial, wafer-thin book, as though any real sentiment the author might have possessed was washed down with a pressure hose. The death penalty isn't a topic I would consider to inspire apathy, and the author indeed indicates that he shares this opinion. I'm not all that clear on why, then, this text is so subdued. I'm not necessarily looking for a diatribe, and I certainly believe in the wisdom of acknowledging the nuances and facets of a debate like this. I also appreciate the ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly interesting book. Mr Turow reflects on the Illinois death penalty and his investigation as part of a panel to recommend reforms to the death penalty in the early 2000's.

Mr Turow considers all kinds of angles, is the death penalty just? is it practical (he notes that the cost of a death penalty trial outweighs the cost of incarcerating a convict for life and that there aren't enough death penalty cases each year for abolition to show appreciable savings, both points I found fascinating)?
Bob Schmitz
Many years ago I read a couple of Scott Turow's legal mystery's and a couple of years ago I read "One L" about his experience in law school a wonderful perceptive and descriptive non-fiction piece. I picked up Ultimate Punishment to see what this smart guy has to say about Capital Punishment. Turns out he has a ton to say.

In 2001 or 2002 Turow was appointed by the governor of Illinois to a blue ribbon committee to examine capital punishment in the state. In this book Turow recounts his two year
Dec 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death, legal, political
Mr. Turow was on the committee in Illinois that looked into the way the death penalty has been applied, to see if there should be a moratorium on it, as the governor has suggested after a large number of capitol cases were found, upon appeal, to have been in error (DNA proven in 50% of the cases). This brief book is the result. It is fair look at the system, from people on many sides of the argument, investigating everything from the financial costs to the racial makeup of the convictions, and i ...more
May 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-books-2005
I've always enjoyed Turow's legal thrillers, so seeing him put his formidable intelligence to the question of the death penalty was enjoyable as well. I was already inclined to agree with his opinion (the death penalty is wrong) but I was appreciated the exploration of different concerns. But would this book change the mind of a death penalty supporter? I'm not so sure.
Jun 23, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book if you haven't already made up your mind about the death penalty, or if you're pro-death penalty and willing to have your thoughts challenged. As an opponent of the death penalty, I wasn't particularly moved. Still, Turow's a great writer (if needlessly self-promoting) and I share many of his views. Plus, at 120 pages, it's a quick read.
Jul 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book didn't change my mind because I was already firmly opposed to the death penalty, but I did appreciate the close examination of the issues by a lawyer who has examined them closely and thoughtfully.
Marik Casmon
A compassionate and logical book of essays about the death penalty, one which examines the issue from many, perhaps all, sides.
Dec 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book forced me to challenge all preconceptions I had about the death penalty and ask myself if I could pull the lever. I could not.
Oct 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book definitely opened my eyes to many issues surrounding the death penalty.
Marnie Lansdown
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't say enough about how much I gained from reading this book. In general, I do not support the death penalty. Yet, there are those cases where it seems like life in prison just doesn't do justice when a crime is particularly horrific and where there is no doubt about who committed the crime. An example for me would be James Holmes, the man who killed 12 and injured 50 in an Aurora, Colorado theater shooting in 2012.

Reading this book, written by a bestselling author who also happens to work
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well done. If I hadn't already had a position in this issue, this world have gone a long way toward establishing my position. Mr. Turow is very convincing but not too heavy-handed. It does feel like he is advocating--as opposed to lasting out the arguments--but, since he isn't trying to hide that fact, I wasn't bothered by it. I was impressed by how practical and functional his arguments were. He did not rely on moral arguments and that gave him credibility for me. Recommended for anyone wi ...more
Peter Tillman
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fine short book, well worth a couple hours of your time. Turow has spent a lot of time and effort thinking through the death penalty, talking to murderers, their victims, wardens, lawyers... He's a good writer, and concludes that the death penalty is, practically speaking, impossible to apply fairly and should be done away with. Even though there are monsters in our prisons who really should be executed, and he cites some particularly gruesome killings.

Dec 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just excellent- a thought provoking non- fiction analysis of the death penalty by Scott Turow. Turow is best known for his fictional works with a criminal law context- but he also served on a Commission in Illinois to review issues attendant to the death penalty experience in this state. Its very well done

Some questions probed:

What are the goals of punishment?
What do we think of the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil?
What value do we place on life of the murderer and of
Nov 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a thoughtful, even-handed examination of the merits and demerits of the death penalty. The author concludes that because the justice system in our democracy is essentially incapable of adopting all of the specific reforms necessary to make the death penalty fair, equitable, appropriate, and less prone to error, it should be abolished. In other words, if you can't get it right, then you shouldn't get it. He gave little attention to the prospect that the death penalty sends a message that ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent collection of concise essays about various issues related to capital punishment, such as police investigations of heinous crimes, housing dangerous killers in prison, the burden of victims' families, the legislative process that produces death penalty laws, and the author's service on the Illinois death penalty commission. Mr. Turow incorporates into several essays his experience as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney in capital cases. Many of the essays present argume ...more
Mary Whisner
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago I picked up this slender book. Subtitled "a lawyer's reflections on dealing with the death penalty," it relates Turow's experience handling a couple of death penalty appeals pro bono and serving on the Illinois commission that looked at the death penalty. He said he began as a "death penalty agnostic" -- not opposed, not for -- and ended up so concerned that the report he participated in led to Gov. Ryan's decision to declare a moratorium on the punishment.

This is a thoughtful discussi
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"A gripping examination of the case for and against capital punishment by a respected criminal lawyer and celebrated novelist. In the words of Harvard Law Professor, Laurence H. Tribe--"Ultimate Punishment is the ultimate statement about the death penalty: to read it is to understand why law alone cannot make us whole." (From Amazon)

I quite liked Turow's views on capital punishment and it makes you think of your own opinions.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
I would have given this book five stars, but there was a chapter that prattled on about one of his other books. It wasn't pertinent to the point of his book, and generally seemed to be a shameless plug. The rest of the book was a fair look at the death penalty issue, with valuable insight and thorough research.
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure what to expect, but this turned out to be a very good, thought-provoking look at the death penalty. Turow did an excellent job of depicting his own struggles in coming to a personal conclusion on the death penaalty, and in doing so, it really felt like a fair and balanced view. It definitely made me take a look at my own values.
Dec 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid book by an accomplished, seasoned writer. Turow has the gift of being able to see events from more than one perspective. His account of his days on the capital punishment commission during Illinois' moratorium on the death penalty in the early 2000's is well-paced, nuanced, and balanced. Would make a very good complement to Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay-collection
I found this book a very enlightening, multifaceted review of issues surrounding capital punishment. It is also pretty graphic, and some of the descriptions made me physically ill. They were germane to the topic and it wouldn't have been as effective without explaining the crimes that, according to the judicial system, deserved ultimate punishment.
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Scott Turow is the author of ten bestselling works of fiction, including IDENTICAL, INNOCENT, PRESUMED INNOCENT, and THE BURDEN OF PROOF, and two nonfiction books, including ONE L, about his experience as a law student. His books have been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, and have been adapted into movies and television projects. He has fre ...more
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“There will always be cases that cry out to me for ultimate punishment. That is not the true issue. The pivotal question instead is whether a system of justice can be constructed that reaches only the rare, right cases, without also occasionally condemning the innocent or the undeserving.” 2 likes
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