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Things I've Learned from Dying: A Book About Life

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Overview

"Every life is different, but every death is the same. We live with others. We die alone."

In his riveting, artfully written memoir The Autobiography of an Execution, David Dow enraptured readers with a searing and frank exploration of his work defending inmates on death row. But when Dow's father-in-law receives his own death sentence in the form of terminal cancer, and ...

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Overview

"Every life is different, but every death is the same. We live with others. We die alone."

In his riveting, artfully written memoir The Autobiography of an Execution, David Dow enraptured readers with a searing and frank exploration of his work defending inmates on death row. But when Dow's father-in-law receives his own death sentence in the form of terminal cancer, and his gentle dog Winona suffers acute liver failure, the author is forced to reconcile with death in a far more personal way, both as a son and as a father.

Told through the disparate lenses of the legal battles he's spent a career fighting, and the intimate confrontations with death each family faces at home, THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM DYING offers a poignant and lyrical account of how illness and loss can ravage a family. Full of grace and intelligence, Dow offers readers hope without cliché and reaffirms our basic human needs for acceptance and love by giving voice to the anguish we all face--as parents, as children, as partners, as friends--when our loved ones die tragically, and far too soon.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

David Dow has spent much of his adult life confronting the mortality of other. His 2010 word-of-mouth hit (and Discover Great New Writers Nonfiction Award winner) The Autobiography of an Execution told of his determined battles, not always successful, to save death row inmates. In his new book, he writes about death sentences even closer to home; most particularly, the cancer demise of his father-in-law and the terminal illness of his beloved dog. As in prize-winning debut, Things I've Learned from Dying approaches a subject of dark finality with a human sense of caring and a natural poet's unforced touch. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/04/2013
Lawyer Dow (Autobiography of an Execution) eloquently draws us into this gracefully told memoir about his angry and painful struggles to sort out the lessons that death teaches us about living. During the time that Dow is preparing appeals for Waterman, a death row inmate, his father-in-law is diagnosed with cancer, and his family’s beloved dog is found to have an inoperable and ultimately fatal liver tumor. An engaging storyteller, Dow weaves elegantly each person’s story into a colorful and emotionally wrenching narrative that covers his fiercely honest struggle to make sense of life and death. Early on, his father-in-law reflects on the career of his cancer: “The problem is the emotional change the physical pain has caused, and it is too late to do anything about that change.” After an especially trying day working on the Waterman case, Dow expresses his frustrations with the system: “People who think bogus legal proceedings happen only in places like Iran or China apparently have not been to Texas… Anybody who tells you the criminal justice system is an even playing field has no idea what she’s talking about.” Dow’s moving tale leaves us with a tough questions: “Which is better: to be able to circle the date on a calendar five years from today when your life will end? Or to get flattened by a truck crossing the street and never see it coming?” Agent, Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (Jan.)
Terry Teachout
"Sooner or later, death touches every life. Sometimes, though, it comes in legions. This is the story of a death penalty lawyer from Texas who simultaneously watched his father-in-law die of cancer and defended a convicted murderer who didn't deserve to be executed. Few of us can begin to imagine such a shattering coincidence, and fewer still could ever hope to come to terms with it. But David R. Dow did, and has now written a profoundly poignant, singularly wise memoir of his experience. In the midst of death he was-and is-in life."
Bryan Mealer
"In clear, powerful prose, David R. Dow reminds us of an essential truth: that human life remains cheap to the state, and for the rest of us, it is precious, momentary, and wholly fulfilling when embraced."
Dick Lehr
"David R. Dow has delivered a profound and penetrating meditation on the end of life-through the deaths of his father-in-law to cancer, a death row inmate he was representing to lethal injection, and his family's beloved dog to liver failure. The writing is clear-eyed and intimate, as he exquisitely weaves the stories of these staggering losses together. Better still, along the way he reveals the lessons for living that come from them."
Dahlia Lithwick
"In terse, spare prose, David Dow mines the shadows between dying and death, work and family, law and justice, love and pain. A stunning meditation on all the ways in which irreversible endings can make us whole."
Steve Weinberg
"David Dow is a lawyer who writes like an angel."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"He is a gifted storyteller. And regardless of your opinion on the death penalty, he sounds like good company."
John Grisham
"A riveting and compelling account of a Texas execution written and narrated by a lawyer in the thick of the last minute chaos. It should be read by all those who support state sponsored killing."
Los Angeles Times
"Chilling . . . authentic and heartfelt . . . He will transfix you."
New York Times Book Review
"Powerful . . . a brilliant, heartrending book."
Christian Science Monitor
"His prose is captivating."
Jeffrey Toobin
PRAISE FOR THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXECUTION

"David Dow's extraordinary memoir lifts the veil on the real world of representing defendants on death row. It will stay with me a long time."

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-03
A memoir examining the complicated nature of death. Although death-row defense lawyer Dow (Houston Law Center; The Autobiography of an Execution, 2011) is no stranger to the throes of death, when the Grim Reaper knocked on his own family's door, the reality of the situation hit much harder. Thoughtful and full of a pensive sadness, the author intertwines the difficulties of his work, of trying to save a model inmate destined for execution, with reflections, memories and conversations with his dying father-in-law and the painful process of watching his beloved dog, Winona, die. "Time does not heal all wounds," writes the author. "Some pain becomes part of who you are." His pain, born of a profound love for his family and pet, cascaded over into Dow's work, where the need to save a life, regardless of the crime committed, has forced him to try any measure to stay the execution. Meanwhile, his father-in-law struggled with the physical and emotional realities of suffering from a terminal disease and the desire to live life in his own way while trying to juggle the needs of a devoted wife and daughter. The final piece to the triplet of death fell into place when the elderly Winona suffered acute liver failure. The pace of the writing is slow and steady, inexorably moving toward predetermined and unavoidable conclusions. No amount of heroics on the parts of Dow to save the inmate, the doctors to save his father-in-law and friend, or the vet to help the dog can change the outcomes. Hope, love, anger, guilt and despair are some of the emotional waves the author faces head-on and presents to readers in a moving testimony to the will to live. "Our lives end before others notice," writes Dow, "and the time that spans the distance is the inverse of the grief your loved ones will suffer when you leave them behind." Sad and inspiring reflections of what it means to live, love and die.
Christian Science Monitor
"His prose is captivating."
New York Times Book Review
"Powerful . . . a brilliant, heartrending book."
Jeffrey Toobin
PRAISE FOR THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXECUTION

"David Dow's extraordinary memoir lifts the veil on the real world of representing defendants on death row. It will stay with me a long time."

Los Angeles Times
"Chilling . . . authentic and heartfelt . . . He will transfix you."
John Grisham
"A riveting and compelling account of a Texas execution written and narrated by a lawyer in the thick of the last minute chaos. It should be read by all those who support state sponsored killing."
From the Publisher
"David Dow is a lawyer who writes like an angel about men society has judged to be devils... Almost every paragraph is a gem in terms of both style and content."—Steve Weinberg, Dallas Morning News

"Books that are both riveting and important are all too rare. David R. Dow's "Things I've Learned From Dying" is a powerful, moving cri de coeur that recalls Ron Suskind's "Hope in the Unseen" and Tracy Kidder's "Strength in What Remains" in the way it tests - and renews - your faith in humanity by confronting intractable social ills and moral quandaries unflinchingly. But unlike those reportorial feats, this quasi-memoir by a death-penalty lawyer who founded the Texas Innocence Network is intensely personal."—Washington Post

"Dow's prose is precise and almost hard-edged at times, piercingly sensitive at others. He makes no argument in favor of faith or hope; he suggests instead that love, in all its constellations, is the only tool we have when confronting death."—Boston Globe

"Dow's lyrically written prose shimmers as he traces life's final moments for his death-row client, father-in-law, and dog Winona. Its exploration of the elusive line between life and death will leave readers speechless."—Library Journal, starred review

"Gracefully told.... Dow weaves elegantly each person's story into a colorful and emotionally wrenching narrative that covers his fiercely honest struggle to make sense of life and death."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Library Journal
Founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network, Dow has represented more than 100 death row inmates in their state and federal appeals, an experience he articulated with quiet, bracing passion in his award-winning The Autobiography of an Execution. In this more personal book, Dow discusses the impact of death on a family and reconciling to loss after his father-in-law and his beloved dog Winona are both diagnosed with terminal illnesses. With a 50,000-copy first printing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455575244
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 107,140
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


David R. Dow is professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center and an internationally recognized figure in the fight against the death penalty. Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for The Autobiography of an Execution, he is also the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network and has represented more than one hundred death row inmates in their state and federal appeals. He lives in Houston, Texas.
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