Thursday March 4th, 2010

The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow

david-dowThis memoir by Dow, founder of the Texas Innocence Network, details his time as an advocate for those on death row. In the Los Angeles Times, Art Winslow says the book is written in a “relatively spare, direct but distinctly literary style” and that “Dow’s voice throughout is one of modulated anger: He seethes within boundaries.”

In the New York Times, Dahlia Lithwick addresses the more personal strands of the book: “Readers who don’t care about his son’s T-ball practices or his wife’s dance classes may find this background distracting, but for Dow his family is a lifeline back from the death chamber.” She also points out, as have all the reviewers I’ve read, that the “demands of attorney-client confidentiality” have ensured the book is “less an autobiography of an execution than a powerful collage of the life of a death penalty lawyer. . . . [H]aving created a brilliant, heart-rending book that can’t be properly fact-checked, Dow almost seems to have joined the ranks of people who will privilege emotion over detail, and narrative over precision.”

In the Christian Science Monitor, Steve Weinberg says he trusts Dow on the facts, in part because they corroborate what Weinberg himself has learned in studying wrongful convictions. His overall take: “Dow is not the first anti-death penalty advocate to criticize the criminal justice system in print, and he probably will not be the last. But his book is especially worthy, whatever a reader’s opinion about the morality of the death penalty. Dow’s candor seems so absolute that readers on both sides of the debate can gain insight into the thought process of an experienced advocate.”

A negative review is turned in by Kyle Smith of the New York Post, but its sour tone and clear lack of interest in discussing the real issues at hand leave me wishing for a reviewer to present the other side with some logic. And class.

GQ published an excerpt, and Dow discussed the book with Leonard Lopate.

The Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow
Twelve, 288 pp., $24.99