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The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose
by Jack Shuler
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"The hangman's knot is a simple thing to tie, just a rope carefully coiled around itself up to thirteen times. But in those thirteen turns lie a powerful symbol, one of the most powerful in history, and particularly in America, whose relationship to the noose is all too deep and complicated. Our history with hangings is shockingly recent. The last man to be hanged in the United States was Billy Bailey, who was executed in Delaware in 1996 for committing a double murder. Hanging has since been disallowed in that state, but it is still legal, in certain situations, in New Hampshire and Washington. An incident in Jena, Louisiana, in 2006, in which nooses were used to symbolically menace black students, is a fresh reminder of just how potent this emblem of racism and savage violence still is. All that meaning, and all that history, is a lot to see in a coiled rope. But the fact is, that meaning is felt by all of us. And Jack Shuler, a professor of American literature and black studies, is the right man to explore it: from Judas Iscariot, perhaps the most infamous hanged man, to the killing of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the murderers at the heart of Capote's In Cold Blood, and beyond. Shuler goes era by era, tracing the evolution of this dark practice in episodes, and revealing the ways each one impacted the society around it. As he investigates the death of John Brown and the 1930 lynching that inspired the song "Strange Fruit," his travels take him across America-and not just the South-uncovering our deep secrets and searching for meaning. Shuler's account is a kind of shadow history of America: for all the celebrated strides we've made towards integration and harmony, those victories are hollow without an appreciation for what they vanquished. The Thirteenth Turn is a courageous and searching book that reminds us where we come from, and what is lost if we forget. "--
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