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Festival of Punishment

Thomas Laqueur: On Death Row, 5 October 2000

Proximity to Death 
by William McFeely.
Norton, 206 pp., £17.95, January 2000, 0 393 04819 5
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Death Row: The Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment 
edited by Bonnie Bobit.
Bobit, 311 pp., $24.95, September 1999, 0 9624857 6 4
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... For most of its history the United States has been within the mainstream of Western enlightened thought and practice with respect to the death penalty. Sometimes ahead of the curve: Michigan abolished capital punishment in 1846, well before most of Europe; Rhode Island and Wisconsin got rid of it in 1853; North Dakota has never had it; sometimes a bit behind: seven out of nine states that had abandoned it embraced it again in the decades after the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution; sometimes – as in its tacit acceptance of lynching and of the quasi-judicial hangings which gave mob murder a veneer of legitimacy – horribly out of step ...

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