The Autobiography of an Execution

Narrated by: David R. Dow
Length: 8 hrs and 5 mins
4 out of 5 stars (123 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Near the beginning of The Autobiography of an Execution, David Dow lays his cards on the table. "People think that because I am against the death penalty and don't think people should be executed, that I forgive those people for what they did. Well, it isn't my place to forgive people, and if it were, I probably wouldn't. I'm a judgmental and not very forgiving guy. Just ask my wife."

©2009 David R. Dow (P)2010 Hachette

Critic Reviews

"In an argument against capital punishment, Dow's capable memoir partially gathers its steam from the emotional toll on all parties involved, especially the overworked legal aid lawyers and their desperate clients. The author, the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, respects the notion of attorney-client privilege in this handful of real-life legal outcomes, some of them quite tragic, while acknowledging executions are 'not about the attorneys,' but 'about the victims of murder and sometimes their killers.' .... Dow's book is a sobering, gripping and candid look into the death penalty." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about The Autobiography of an Execution

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The shortcomings of justice

I couldn't let go of this audiobook after having listened to it in a single session: non fiction that reads like a suspense novel. But apart from its ``entertainment'' value, the author makes an extremely compelling case against the death penalty as it is implemented today. Without ever boring the reader, he explains how a dangerous combination of poorly prepared / payed attorneys combined with more and more arbitrary appeal rules restrictions end up with the execution of the guilty, but also the innocent, the mentally insane etc. The real cases he reports bring the reader to tears of sadness and frustration. This should be a must read esp for everyone who supports the death penalty without really knowing how the system works!

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great story. Tragic reality

David Dow's memoir is not just about the death penalty; it is about a father, a husband, and a lawyer. If this were fiction, it would be a great story. But it's fact, making it all the more compelling. Of course, the book also teaches us an awfully lot about criminal justice in Texas, and what you learn is not pretty.

The narration by the author is excellent.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Interview at end is great

This is a fascinating and eye-opening inside look into the business of execution, as well as into the life and practice of a lawyer defending death row inmates. This is some intense lawyering, let me tell you! And the details about the ins and outs of this practice - the races for appeals, the maddening frustrations, the heart-breaking losses - "justice is blind" (mostly to its own injustice) - were excellently told. The quality of Dow's writing is superb - simultaneously engaging and matter-of-fact.

But the interview in the appendix at the end was, to me, the most highly illuminating - when Dow emphasizes how lawyers - not just contract lawyers or divorce lawyers but also death row lawyers - are bound by the code of confidentiality that binds all lawyers - to take the secrets of the client-attorney relationship to the grave - for example, they cannot even talk to their spouses about how their day went.(except in the most general way, I suppose).

Getting this interview at the end of this very intense book was quite the unexpected bonus! Dow - and other death row attorneys - are most likely carrying some very weighty secrets. And for him to translate them into this engrossing, educational, heart-rending story with the ring of truth without violating confidences was quite a feat! Well done!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Deliciously Unsettling!

This book unsettled me and forced me, in a healthy way, from my nice and happy bubble. The justice system scares me and I don't know where people who are are falsely-accused of a crime get the strength to carry on! I don't know how death-penalty lawyers and cops can ever see life as "normal" since the meter for normal must get set waaaay askew! The systems seems WAY off-balance and I don't see any hope for fixing it. If I got falsely-accused of a crime, I honestly don't know if I would even be able to face my trial!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    out of 5 stars

Excellent

Compelling, thoughtful, well-written

2 people found this helpful

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Not great!

didn't like the author/narrator. Lacking personality. Sounds like he needs a class in parenting.

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Worthwhile Read

First, the disclaimer - To be clear, this book offers an opinionated perspective on the death penalty. Careful scouring of the Texas death row’s historical record will leave an intuitive person skeptical as to if Dow has presented in this book all the evidence used against his client. Dow is a liberal elitist who flashes his self-imagined moral superiority, atheism, expensive wine, and lavish main courses. Frankly, he is exactly the man you’d expect to lead a rallying cry against the death penalty - admittedly unable to relate to the violent, and a life lived free from violence’s impact. He tells of being partially raised by a nanny and employing one as well. This is an author of marked privilege, and I question the broadness of his perspective and relatability.

Dow’s service to death row inmates is impeccable. He is an elite storyteller and author. He brilliantly juxtaposes the personal backdrop of this book with a gripping account of trying to save a client he believes in. This is a man who is operating in the trenches with a flaming sword in his hands. He’s fighting hard for what he believes in. I admire and respect the work Dow describes.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating but Frustrating Look at the Judicial System

As a person opposed to the death penalty I was pleased to hear the author say he is judgmental of others and not quick to forgive; however he does not agree with capital punishment because of the obvious inequities in the system. He is not a holier than thou person and even admits he did not like many of his clients. Regardless, he went over and above fighting against all odds to save his clients from being put to death in an unfair and biased judicial system that sentences poor, minority and mentally-challenged defendants to death while allowing defendants with money and connections to escape it. Fascinating reading, particularly when he talks about the flurry of activity involved in trying to save his clients’ lives. Frustrating when he is unable to do so. I highly recommend this book and am going to check out his other books.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Death Penalty. USA Can No Longer Afford.

I must admit that I only started to read this book because of my views regarding the Death Penalty. I was curious about the views and opinions of David R. Dow as he is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice University. He also runs a death penalty clinic in which law students assist in the representation of inmates facing execution and is the founder and director of Texas’s oldest innocence project, the Texas Innocence Network, an organization that uses UH law students to investigate claims of actual innocence brought by Texas prisoners. In 2014, he started the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, which is also located at the UH Law Center.

I figured that this guy knew a thing or two about the Death Penalty! I was not disappointed. I was surprised by his candor. This guy more often or not really disliked the people that he was representing.

David Dow makes it quite clear that his job and the job of his team was to save people from execution. NOT to prove their innocence JUST to keep them alive. He did not have to like them.

This man has four loves. He loves deeply . He loves hard. I have no idea in what order these loves are stacked. Depends on the day I suppose.

The law, his wife, his son, his dog.

I enjoyed this book very much. In fact I read it twice prior to writing this review. It will make you think. Maybe you will get as frustrated with the system as I did? The arbitrary red tape that is left to the very last moment and the 'flip' attitude of lazy Government employees who are not prepared to do their job in order to perform their 'due diligence' even thought a human being may well be losing their life in less than an hour.

An excellent read.

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50 Shades of Humanity

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I recommend this book to anyone interested in delving into the shades of gray that live between juvenile notions of good people and bad people, alll within the framework of the US justice system and the Texas death penalty system. All of these characters are flawed, and grace comes from the most surprising places. Set aside your beliefs on the death penalty and just go for a ride with the author as he weaves the rules of the legal system, their effects on real cases and real people, and the parallel journey of his personal life as a husband and father into a fabric that will wrap around you unexpectedly and leave you with lots to ponder. It's definitely worth the journey!

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Autobiography of an Execution?

Henry Quaker's speech. Any more detail would be a spoiler.

What aspect of David R. Dow’s performance would you have changed?

Page turns are audible in the first section of the book. Dow's narration is reminiscent of Ben Stein. But somehow by the end, the words matter more than the performance art.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

After the first hour, I would have given this book a single star, but by the end I'm offering 4 and 5 stars. Once I gave myself over to just going wherever the author wanted to take me, it became an incredible journey.