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Book Reviews: Ultimate Punishment

We highly recommend Ultimate Punishment, by Scott Turow

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Below is a review of this fascinating book.

Review of Ultimate Punishment, by Scott Turow (best-selling author of Presumed Innocent and other novels).

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola.

I’ve liked Turow's novels ever since I read Burden of Proof. When I first began reading Ultimate Punishment, I was disappointed that it was non-fiction because I had so looked forward to another gripping tale from Turow. My disappointment soon gave way to keen interest. And then to intense fascination.

Turow handled the topic so well, he had me challenging my own long-held beliefs. Whether you are for or against capital punishment, Turow's treatment of this topic will have you doing the same. This begs the question of what Turow was doing writing a non-fiction work, and one about the death penalty at that.

Scott Turow has served as both a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney in capital cases. When the governor of Illinois tapped him to serve on a special commission to investigate and report on the Illinois death penalty, he began a journey through a system that was far more broken than anyone had realized. What he reveals in this book reminds me of the depravity Senator Roth revealed in his book about the IRS. When the government runs amok, justice is merely an abstract concept—not a reality.

Serving on the commission required Turow to do intensive research and analysis, and he shares the results of that with the reader. Turow's views were different coming out of the experience than they were going into it. And so were those of nearly everyone on the commission.

In this book, Turow looks at the arguments both for and against the death penalty - both the fallacious ones and the solid ones. He shows us how the underlying assumptions of public policy fail to square with what really goes on. The book isn't a diatribe against the death penalty, nor is it an endorsement for it. Instead, it's a remarkably thoughtful look at all of the issues.

The world would be a much better place if all public policies underwent such a thoughtful exploration and evaluation. Sadly, they don’t. Whether they hear a capital case or one of lesser import, our courts would serve society better if every judge, attorney, and potential juror read Ultimate Punishment. If you fall into one of those three categories, you should consider this book required reading.

Other Turow books




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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