Cover image for Ultimate punishment : a lawyer's reflections on dealing with the death penalty
Ultimate punishment : a lawyer's reflections on dealing with the death penalty
Turow, Scott.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2003]

Physical Description:
164 pages ; 20 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF9227.C2 T87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
KF9227.C2 T87 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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, including successfully representing two different men convicted in death-penalty prosecutions. In this vivid account of how his views on the death penalty have evolved, Turow describes his own experiences with capital punishment from his days as an impassioned young prosecutor to his recent service on the Illinois commission which investigated the administration of the death penalty and influenced Governor George Ryan's unprecedented commutation of the sentences of 164 death row inmates on his last day in office. Along the way, he provides a brief history of America's ambivalent relationship with the ultimate punishment, analyzes the potent reasons for and against it, including the role of the victims' survivors, and tells the powerful stories behind the statistics, as he moves from the Governor's Mansion to Illinois' state-of-the art 'super-max' prison and the execution chamber.

This gripping, clear-sighted, necessary examination of the principles, the personalities, and the politics of a fundamental dilemma of our democracy has all the drama and intellectual substance of Turow's celebrated fiction.

Author Notes

Scott Turow is a writer and lawyer. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 12, 1949. He received a B.A. from Amherst College in 1970 and an M.A. from Stanford University in 1974. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1978. He was an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago and served as a prosecutor in several corruption cases. Turow continues to work as an attorney.

He has written numerous novels including Presumed Innocent, The Burden of Proof, Pleading Guilty, The Laws of Our Fathers, Personal Injuries, Ordinary Heroes, Limitations, Innocent, and Identical. His non-fiction works include One L about his experience as a law student and Ultimate Punishment about the death penalty. He has won numerous awards including the Heartland Prize in 2003 for Reversible Errors, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 2004 for Ultimate Punishment, and Time Magazine's Best Work of Fiction, 1999 for Personal Injuries. He will give a keynote speech at the National writer's Congress 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Popular legal-fiction writer Turow takes on the divisive topic of the death penalty in this concise, thoughtful essay. A self-proclaimed death penalty agnostic, Turow didn't consider himself an expert on the issue even during his years as a prosecutor or when he helped in the defense of some high-profile capital cases. Nonetheless, in early 2000, after Illinois governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on further executions, Turow was appointed to a 14-member blue-ribbon commission charged with helping reform the state's capital punishment system. Ryan's groundbreaking moratorium began a wave of similar actions nationwide as more and more guilty convictions were questioned, whether via new DNA evidence or an overzealous prosecutorial machine (in two key cases in Illinois, a little of both). Turow traces the recent history of the death penalty through his own experiences, and though he was ambivalent about it at the start, he comes away with definite convictions. This is not a scientific study, Turow admits, but he does supply ample notes to back up many of the claims he makes throughout the book. Also included is the commission's report as submitted to Governor Ryan. Together with Mark Fuhrman's more procedural study, Death andustice BKLl 03, Turow's reflections will spark further discussions on this troublesome issue. --Mary Frances Wilkens Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Turow brings his experience as a practicing attorney to this thoughtful meditation on the nature, peril and efficacy of the death penalty. His tone is human and warm, but devoid of drama-he uses no character voices, save for a brief moment when he effectively emulates the words of an elderly Jewish man, who offers a warning about what can go wrong when a government exerts force against its own people. Much of the book deals with Turow's time spent on a commission organized to look into the death penalty machinery in Illinois and offer suggestions for improvement. He also relates his visit to a "Super-Max" prison where the "worst of the worst" are kept; these passages are chilling, as are his clinical descriptions of the crimes committed by the death row inmates. Turow gives both pro and con arguments equal consideration, keeping his own feelings ambiguous until the end, when he reveals his opinion that the death penalty should be repealed. The early chapters may confuse listeners, as they contain a cavalcade of names, but even so, this is a provocative, worthwhile listen, one that explores all the usual questions about capital punishment while raising new ones. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

No fiction here: having served on an Illinois commission investigating the death penalty, Turow offers a complex discussion of the issues involved. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Ultimate Punishmentp. 3
Preamble to the Report of the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment, April 2002p. 119
Notesp. 127
Acknowledgmentsp. 165