Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture on Death Row

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There is no light darker than that which filters through the cells and souls on death row. Now David Von Drehle, the prizewinning journalist of The Washington Post, takes us as never before into the world of death row inmates, the world of those who have been the victims of their crimes, and the world of those who have the power to punish by killing. Among the Lowest of the Dead introduces us to the lawyers who run their lives into the ground fighting to save killers, and the equally frazzled lawyers who fight to...
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Overview

There is no light darker than that which filters through the cells and souls on death row. Now David Von Drehle, the prizewinning journalist of The Washington Post, takes us as never before into the world of death row inmates, the world of those who have been the victims of their crimes, and the world of those who have the power to punish by killing. Among the Lowest of the Dead introduces us to the lawyers who run their lives into the ground fighting to save killers, and the equally frazzled lawyers who fight to execute them. We sit with the survivors of murder victims, waiting - sometimes for decades - for justice to come. We oversee the deliberations of governors as they sign death warrants, then sit passively by the telephone as the appointed hour passes. We go inside the courtrooms where judges intone the awful words "and may God have mercy on your soul." And we delve into the world of the sick, the vicious, the changed - even the innocent - men and women who spend their days in tiny cells waiting for the moment when time runs out. A book of enormous and profound insight, cloaked in a prose poetic, stark, and stunningly revealing, Among the Lowest of the Dead is much more than one of the most powerful books ever written on crime and punishment in America - it is a look into the souls of the guilty, the innocent, and ourselves. There is no light darker than that which filters through the cells and souls on death row, but David Von Drehle's masterpiece of prose and power illuminates this deepest, darkest realm like a prolonged flash of lightning.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The death penalty is often levied in Florida, where 90% of surveys show that residents favor it. Von Drehle, a staffer at the Washington Post and formerly a reporter for the Miami Herald, presents a compelling argument against capital punishment. He does not discuss the morality of the issue and covers only in passing such contentions that killing one killer will deter others. Rather, he points out the vagueness of Florida's law, which many other states have copied, and shows how the human frailties of judges make its application capricious. He also assesses the role of politics: anyone seeking statewide office in the Sunshine State must favor the death penalty. Examining politicians, judges (including Supreme Court Justices), prosecutors, defense attorneys and the condemned themselves, the author makes an effective case that, despite new laws, execution is no less a lottery than it has always been. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Mar.)
Library Journal
For 11 years, Von Drehle covered Florida's death row for the Miami Herald. This collection of his articles has all the tension of the best true crime stories. He follows the vicissitudes of John Spenkelink, who qualified for a lesser sentence but was nevertheless executed in 1979; of serial killer Ted Bundy, who once received a stay of execution due to a clerical error; and others who awaited justice. He also follows the legal system, covering the lawyers, survivors of the murder victims, judges, governors, and correctional officers. In addition to his in-depth reporting, Von Drehle has a keen understanding of the culture of the condemned. How do they fill the hours and contend with the smells, the sounds, the regulations, and the monotony? Finally, how do they face death itself? This is journalism at its best.-Frances Sandiford, Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, N.Y.
Thomas Gaughan
Examining the death penalty from the perspectives of defense attorneys, prosecutors, death-row inmates, governors who sign death warrants, prison officials, judges, and the families of victims, the author demonstrates that there are only two truths: the law allowing executions is chaos and its application is as chancy as the lottery. In a fine and important book, Von Drehle writes elegantly and powerfully, having done an enormous amount of research. Shifting from micro to macro, the author zooms in for a riveting portrait of a wonderfully decent and intelligent prison warden before stepping back to look at the judicial system. Surprisingly, there are many heroes--notably, the skilled, dedicated, principled lawyers on both sides of the issue. Some of the condemned are monsters, but judges who ignore their own law and sentence with bizarre inconsistency seem to be the real villains. Anyone certain of their opinion about the death penalty ought to read this book, and most libraries should buy it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812921663
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 469

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