“Ultimate Punishment,” a memoir of dealing as a lawyer with capital punishment. or A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty (2004)

Posted: March 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

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.


“A sober and elegantly concise examination of a complex, fraught topic.” —Publishers Weekly

“A thoughtful account of the evolution of [Turow’s] views on the death penalty… Turow does an excellent job of describing how he wrestled with the arguments for and against the death penalty… By clearly and methodically sorting through the issues regarding the ultimate punishment, Turow has performed a public service. By turns shocking and engrossing, this book is highly recommended.”
—Harry Charles, Library Journal

“In that rarest of achievements, a page-turner filled with genuine wisdom, Scott Turow takes us with him on a mesmerizing voyage through the land of murder that he has sadly learned to navigate with skill and compassion, allowing us to hear the stories and feel the grief of the survivors who loved and will never see again those whose lives were stolen in acts of ultimate evil, enabling us to share the experiences of accuser and accused alike as they feel their separate ways through the corridors and courtrooms that constitute the elaborate machinery of death, holding us spellbound as we arrive finally at the secret lying at the heart of every one of Turow’s gripping novels, a secret whose revelation exposes what we truly seek from capital punishment—and why we will never find it there. Written with a fine lawyer’s feel for fairness and with a superb novelist’s gift for telling us truths beyond the power of law’s logic to express, Ultimate Punishment is the ultimate statement about the death penalty: to read it is to understand why law alone cannot make us whole.” —Laurence H. Tribe, Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School


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