Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence Political Science at Amherst College and Justice Hugo L. Black Senior Faculty Scholar at the University of Alabama School of Law. He is author or editor of more than seventy books, including The Road to Abolition?: The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States; The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture; When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition; The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment: Comparative Perspectives, Law, Violence; Possibility of Justice, Pain, Death, and the Law; Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution; When Law Fails: Making Sense of Miscarriages of Justice; and the two-volume Capital Punishment. Sarat is editor of the journal Law, Culture and the Humanities and Studies in Law, Politics and Society. He is currently writing a book entitled Hollywood's Law: Film, Fatherhood, and the Legal Imagination. His book, When Government Breaks the Law: Prosecuting the Bush Administration, was recognized as one of the best books of 2010 by the Huffington Post. In May 2008 Providence College awarded Sarat with an honorary degree in recognition of his pioneering work in the development of legal study in the liberal arts and his distinguished scholarship on capital punishment in the United States.
Now in paperback, the book includes a new preface outlining the latest twists and turns in the death penalty debate, including the recent galvanization of citizens and leaders alike as recent botched executions have unfolded in the press. Sarat argues that unlike in the past, today's botched executions seem less like inexplicable mishaps and more like the latest symptoms of a death penalty machinery in disarray. Gruesome Spectacles traces the historical evolution of methods of execution, from hanging or firing squad to electrocution to gas and lethal injection. Even though each of these technologies was developed to "perfect" state killing by decreasing the chance of a cruel death, an estimated three percent of all American executions went awry in one way or another. Sarat recounts the gripping and truly gruesome stories of some of these deaths—stories obscured by history and to some extent, the popular press.
In a bold attempt to tackle the looming question of how and why the connection between race and the death penalty has been so strong throughout American history, Ogletree and Sarat headline an interdisciplinary cast of experts in reflecting on this disturbing issue. Insightful original essays approach the topic from legal, historical, cultural, and social science perspectives to show the ways that the death penalty is racialized, the places in the death penalty process where race makes a difference, and the ways that meanings of race in the United States are constructed in and through our practices of capital punishment.
From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State not only uncovers the ways that race influences capital punishment, but also attempts to situate the linkage between race and the death penalty in the history of this country, in particular the history of lynching. In its probing examination of how and why the connection between race and the death penalty has been so strong throughout American history, this book forces us to consider how the death penalty gives meaning to race as well as why the racialization of the death penalty is uniquely American.
The interdisciplinary group of experts gathered by Charles J. Ogletree Jr., and Austin Sarat ask and attempt to answer the hard questions that need to be addressed if the death penalty is to be abolished. Will the death penalty end only to be replaced with life in prison without parole? Will life without the possibility of parole become, in essence, the new death penalty? For abolitionists, might that be a pyrrhic victory? The contributors discuss how the death penalty might be abolished, with particular emphasis on the current debate over lethal injection as a case study on why and how the elimination of certain forms of execution might provide a model for the larger abolition of the death penalty.