9780380974986 / 0380974983

Who Owns Death? Capital Punishment, the American Conscience, and the End of the Death Penalty


3.85 avg rating41 ratings by GoodReads

Publisher:William Morrow, 2000



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About the book:

Conflict and ambivalence have surrounded capital punishment in the United States for centuries, but only now have we reached a state of profound confusion. The execution rate has soared by 800 percent in the post decade and, of the same time, opposition to state killing--on moral, practical, and legal grounds--has intensified. After a decade of dormancy, the capital punishment debate has asserted itself as a major political and social issue, and support for the death penalty, while still high, has dropped to its lowest level in nineteen years. America is clearly ready to ask the question "Who owns death?"

In this timely book, Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, award-winning authors and collaborators on Hiroshima in America, take an unusual approach to the issue. By exploring the mind-sets of those directly involved in the death penalty, including prison wardens, prosecutors, jurors, religious figures, governors, judges, and relatives of murder victims, they offer a textured look at a system that perpetuates the longstanding American habit of violence.

Richly rewarding and meticulously researched, Who Owns Death? explores the history of the death penalty in the United States to explain how it has entered the American psyche. The authors probe changes in methods of execution, from hanging to lethal injection, considering what this search for more "humane" executions reveals about us as individuals and as a society. Through their interviews with participants, they uncover the psychological conflicts that complicate capital punishment, finding that those most deeply involved in the process reveal surprising doubts about, and even opposition to, state killing. In a controversial conclusion, the authors predict that executions in the United States will come to an end in the near future.

Powerful, passionate, and informed, Who Owns Death? is the right book at the right time. As citizens of the only Western democracy that sanctions state killing, Americans have to find a way to acknowledge simultaneously both the horror of the original murder and the wrongness of legal killing. This remarkable book shows the way.

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