When You Read This, They Will Have Killed Me: The Life and Redemption of Caryl Chessman, Whose Execution Shook America

Overview

When Caryl Chessman appeared on the cover of Time's March 21, 1960 issue, he was the most famous prisoner in America and arguably the best-known in the world. He not only put a face on the issue of capital punishment, he made one of the most remarkable transformations by any American writer. Through access to the papers and letters of his attorneys, George T. Davis and Rosalie Asher, the unpublished manuscripts and papers held by Joseph Longstreth; reminiscences with those who knew him, like Mr. Davis, Mr. ...

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Overview

When Caryl Chessman appeared on the cover of Time's March 21, 1960 issue, he was the most famous prisoner in America and arguably the best-known in the world. He not only put a face on the issue of capital punishment, he made one of the most remarkable transformations by any American writer. Through access to the papers and letters of his attorneys, George T. Davis and Rosalie Asher, the unpublished manuscripts and papers held by Joseph Longstreth; reminiscences with those who knew him, like Mr. Davis, Mr. Longstreth, his agent and executor; and country music legend Merle Haggard, the first definitive portrait of the enigmatic Caryl Chessman emerges.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Caryl Chessman was sentenced to California's death row in 1948 after being convicted as Los Angeles's notorious "Red Light Bandit," who robbed couples in parked cars, on some occasions raping the women. By the time Chessman was executed in 1960, his memoirs had made him an international symbol of the anti-death penalty movement. (Carroll & Graf is simultaneously republishing the first and most popular of those memoirs, Cell 2455, Death Row.) This new biography draws heavily on recently released archives of Chessman's unpublished letters and manuscripts as well as contemporary accounts. While acknowledging that Chessman was "a confirmed criminal," Bisbort (Sunday Afternoon Looking for the Car) argues that he was not the Red Light Bandit, repeatedly attacking his conviction in "a tainted trial in a hostile court" and the authorities' refusal to revisit the case. At times, the spirited defense engages in hyperbole-for instance comparing Chessman to Alexander Solzhenitsyn-rather than just letting the facts of the case make the powerful argument. Still, Chessman's story loses none of its haunting power, and Bisbort's retelling reaffirms its significance in America's quest for social justice. B&w photos. (Oct. 10) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786719402
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 414
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Bisbort is a writer, editor, and researcher who has authored or coauthored sixteen books of art, history, music, and travel and contributed to numerous other books. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, In These Times, Los Angeles Times, Hartford Advocate, and many other publications.

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