Book Review – Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty by Scott Turow (2003)

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.

You’ve probably heard of Scott Turow. He wrote “One L” about his first year in law school, which inspired the enormously popular movie and TV series both titled “The Paper Chase.” Since 1977 when he wrote that, he has written a handful of very good lawyer novels.

This is non-fiction with as readable style as was employed in all his prior works, but of a very different nature. In 2000, Turow was appointed to a Commission to study the death penalty by then Illinois governor George Ryan. The Commission was tasked with making recommendations on whether the State of Illinois should abolish the death penalty altogether, or whether it should make certain changes in its application and procedures.

This book is the story of the Commission, but even more of Turow’s own evolution in his thinking on the subject. He had both prosecuted and defended in death penalty cases during his career as a lawyer, and also had written fiction where the death penalty was involved. He had famously been a law student, but also a law professor. His position on the 12-person Commission was thus a unique one.

What makes the book especially interesting is Turow’s determination to keep an open mind. Was he for or against the abolition of the death penalty? You will have to read all the way to the very last word to find out