Books – Death Penalty

For general reading lists see:


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

  • Author:  Bryan Stevenson
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House) 2014

The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective
Highlights the latest developments in the death penalty around the world. Explores the latest issues related to capital punishment such as deterrence, arbitrariness, and what influence victims’ families should have in sentencing.

  • Authors: Roger Hood & Carolyn Hoyle
  • Publisher: Oxford Press, 4th Edition, 2008

Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty
A history of botched, mismanaged, and painful executions in the U.S. from 1890–2010. Traces the evolution of methods of execution from hanging or firing squad to electrocution to gas and lethal injection.

  • Author: Austin Sarat
  • Publisher: Stanford Univ. Press, 2014

The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture
Explains why the US still clings to capital punishment long after other democratic nations have abandoned it. Goes beyond abstract moral argument and narrow policy debate to assess its impact on our legal system, its powerful symbolic appeal, and its place in today’s “culture wars.”

  • Author: Austin Sarat
  • Publisher: Oxford Press, 4th Edition, 2008

Murder at the Supreme Court: Lethal Crimes and Landmark Cases
Reveals the crucial links between landmark capital-punishment cases and the lethal crimes at their root. Raises confounding issues: Is lethal injection really more humane than other methods of execution? Should a mentally ill killer be forcibly medicated to make him “well enough” to be executed? How does the race of the perpetrator or the victim influence sentencing? Is heinous rape a capital crime? How young is too young to be executed?

  • Authors: Martin Clancy and Tim O’Brien
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books, 2013

Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated
Hundreds of men and women, including 120 on death row, have been released from America’s prison in the last several years, after incontrovertible proof of their innocence emerged. In Surviving Justice, thirteen exonerees describe their experiences. Each oral history is a stark account of our criminal justice system’s unforgivable flaws. Free download of lesson plans for Surviving Justice available here.

  • Authors: Dave Eggers and Lola Vollen (editors)
  • Publisher: Voice of Witness/McSweeney’s
  • Grade Level: Middle school – College/Adult
  • Subject Area: Social studies