An honorably dispassionate and logical broadside against a shameful practice.

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EXECUTED ON A TECHNICALITY

LETHAL INJUSTICE ON AMERICA’S DEATH ROW

The death penalty is wrong because it can’t be meted out fairly, argues Dow (Law/Univ. of Houston).

The standard argument against executions is that they are cruel, inhumane and somehow uncivilized: a rhetorical strategy that often runs aground on the hard retort that killers can’t be punished enough and to feel sympathy for them is naïve at best. Some death penalty abolitionists, like Sister Helen Prejean, will explain why certain death row inmates are actually innocent, but even though the author is director of the Texas Innocence Network, he thinks that’s also the wrong angle to take. Dow systematically walks readers through the process by which states decide to execute criminals, a process that ultimately owes far more to a convict’s race, class and caliber of attorney than to the crime’s level of brutality, which is supposed to be the factor that determines whether a death penalty or life sentence is imposed. “The tiny handful that we execute is almost never the worst of the worst,” writes Dow. “Instead, people are executed because eyewitnesses make mistakes, police lie, defense lawyers sleep, and judges do not care.” He returns repeatedly to the subject of defense lawyers who slept through the trials of clients who later went to death row; in one unbelievable instance in Texas, six people who had been represented by one dozing lawyer were executed. It isn’t just a bad defense that makes the system so unfair to the accused, the author asserts; it’s also the simple fact that minorities are executed far more often than their white counterparts (regardless of the severity of the crime) and that higher courts are increasingly unwilling to hear appeals from those on death row. Though the central power of Dow’s argument occasionally gets lost in a book that frequently reads like a dry legal brief, he succeeds in illuminating the horrific arbitrariness of a system that has abandoned blind justice for “the rule of the mob.”

An honorably dispassionate and logical broadside against a shameful practice.

Pub Date: May 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-8070-4420-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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