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Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the…

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty

by Anthony Galvin

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This is an interesting book with some gory details about botched executions, but not enough to make the reader lose sleep. Anthony Galvin - a former crime writer - presents a neat little history of how the electric chair came into use as a means of "humane execution" in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. It's a fairly quick read with information that would be useful during pub trivia. Galvin doesn't advocate for or against the death penalty asides from stating that the use of the electric chair should be kept in the past because of how horrific botched executions are. There is a small section how often the U.S. executes innocent people, but it's relegated to the back of the book. Overall, "Old Sparky" makes for an interesting read but there's not a lot of substance asides from quick facts, and the book could be better edited. ( )
  acgallegos91 | Jun 18, 2016 |
An engrossing read from start to finish. The book narrows down its focus quite quickly but does start broadly to illustrate how the author arrives at his premise. Starting with worldwide execution methods throughout history, Galvin quickly travels through medieval and renaissance Europe, then particularly Britain from whence the colonists brought their preferred execution styles with them to the new world. For most of Britain and it's colonies, hanging became the civilized method and was used almost exclusively in the US until a time when Britain was perfecting the method. What was the US to do? Follow Britain again? Was hanging the most humane method of execution? The French had the guillotine, the Spanish the garrotte, and the firing squad has been used in most civilized countries even up to today. But the US went a very American direction and invented a uniquely American device that is associated with the US only, the electric chair. This book then tells the making of, history of, use of, moratorium on, reinstatement of, replacement of by more modern technology, and the possibilities of its comeback. Quite fascinating stuff whether reading about Edison and Westinghouse's quarrels about A/C vs D/C electrical currents, reading about botched executions, prisoner's last meals, or case studies of numerous individuals who ended up in the electric chair.

One thing this book is not, is an argument pro or con death penalty. For the largest part the author presents an entirely unbiased introduction of the facts; he uses a slight bit of gallows humour which is expected in these types of writings. Personally, I am against any form of capital punishment for any reason and yet I found Galvin's writing style informative and entertaining. The last few chapters Galvin does seem to press heavy that the current state of affairs does need change/reform and here he loses his bias as he does lean more one way than the other, but his information is interesting, even if one tempers his statistics as over keen especially as he heavily pushes the innocent quotient. But these are realistic thoughts to be thinking of going forward: 1: the EU's refusal to sell lethal injection drugs to the US; supplies are currently already low; 2) the research data that concludes lethal injection has probably been one of the most painful methods of execution the US has ever used, hanging was more efficient, beheading is most humane; and 3) 1 in 25 death row inmates is innocent of the crime for which they have been sentenced to death. None of these factors affect any change in my own opinions as they are based on my faith which cannot be swayed. Tha majority of the book though is about the past, that which happened, without any judgement and is an exciting book to read. I read the first whole half in one evening! ( )
  ElizaJane | Oct 2, 2015 |
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In early 2013, Robert Gleason became the latest victim of the electric chair, a peculiarly American execution method. Shouting Pog mo thin ("Kiss my ass" in Gaelic) he grinned as electricity shot through his system. When the current was switched off his body slumped against the leather restraints, and Gleeson, who had strangled two fellow inmates to ensure his execution was not postponed, was dead. The execution had gone flawlessly-not a guaranteed result with the electric chair, which has gone horrifically wrong on many occasions. Old Sparky covers the history of capital punishment in America and the "current wars" between Edison and Westinghouse which led to the development of the electric chair. It examines how the electric chair became the most popular method of execution in America, before being superseded by lethal injection. Famous executions are explored, alongside quirky last meals and poignant last words. The death penalty remains a hot topic of debate in America, and Old Sparky does not shy away from that controversy. Executions have gone spectacularly wrong, with convicts being set alight, and needing up to five jolts of electricity before dying. There have been terrible miscarriages of justice, and the death penalty has not been applied even-handedly. Historically, African-Americans, the mentally challenged, and poor defendants have been likely to get the chair, an anomaly which led the Supreme Court to briefly suspend the death penalty. Since the resumption of capital punishment in 1976 Texas alone has executed more than 500 prisoners, and death row is full.… (more)

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Carrel Books

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