Reflections on Hanging

Arthur Koestler

Preface by Edmond Cahn

Afterword by Sydney Silverman

Title Details

Pages: 256

Formats

Paperback

Pub Date: 03/15/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5535-1

List Price: $26.95

eBook

Pub Date: 03/15/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5534-4

List Price: $26.95

Reflections on Hanging

Arthur Koestler

Preface by Edmond Cahn

Afterword by Sydney Silverman

A classic indictment of the use and abuse of capital punishment

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  • Reviews

Reflections on Hanging is a searing indictment of capital punishment, inspired by its author's own time in the shadow of a firing squad. During the Spanish Civil War, Arthur Koestler was held by the Franco regime as a political prisoner, and condemned to death. He was freed, but only after months of witnessing the fates of less-fortunate inmates. That experience informs every page of the book, which was first published in England in 1956, and followed in 1957 by this American edition.

As Koestler ranges across the history of capital punishment in Britain (with a focus on hanging), he looks at notable cases and rulings, and portrays politicians, judges, lawyers, scholars, clergymen, doctors, police, jailers, prisoners, and others involved in the long debate over the justness and effectiveness of the death penalty.

In Britain, Reflections on Hanging was part of a concerted, ultimately successful effort to abolish the death penalty. At that time, in the forty-eight United States, capital punishment was sanctioned in forty-two of them, with hanging still practiced in five. This edition includes a preface and afterword written especially for the 1957 American edition. The preface makes the book relevant to readers in the U.S.; the afterword overviews the modern-day history of abolitionist legislation in the British Parliament.

Reflections on Hanging is relentless, biting, and unsparing in its details of botched and unjust executions. It is a classic work of advocacy for some of society's most defenseless members, a critique of capital punishment that is still widely cited, and an enduring work that presaged such contemporary problems as the sensationalism of crime, the wrongful condemnation of the innocent and mentally ill, the callousness of penal systems, and the use of fear to control a citizenry.

The motivation for the book is compellingly personal, but the writing is objective, clear, and persuasive.

—Frank Tannenbaum, New York Times Book Review

It is bound to influence the thinking of the American reader who believes in the worth of human life and the dignity of the animal called Man.

—Eva Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle

Koestler with his usual clarity presents the arguments for capital punishment and then destroys them.

—Kirkus Reviews

Perhaps the most disquieting part of this story of judicial conservatism is the treatment of the insane, guilty of capital crimes. . . . [An] exhaustive analysis of the whole problem of capital punishment.

—Reinhold Niebuhr, New Republic

A notable work of the humane intelligence . . . Koestler pleads his case, which would be as pertinent in our states that allow capital penalties as it is in England, with force and fervor.

—Richard H. Rovere, New Yorker

The arguments against hanging put forward by Koestler are not new. . . . These points have been made before, but can seldom have been advanced with more conviction or a heavier supply of confirming evidence. . . . Even a hangman could hardly fail to admire this impassioned ingenuity.

—Phoebe Adams, Atlantic Monthly

[A] brilliant polemic.

—Anthony Daniels, New Criterion

His criticisms are always caustic, sometimes bitter. His opposition to 'legal homicide' is unwavering and his logic often devastating. . . . Reflections on Hanging deserves wide attention and careful examination.

—Donald R. Campion, America

[A] brilliant contribution to the campaign for the abolition of hanging in Britain.

—Time

Reflections on Hanging stands as a bitter indictment of society's demand that the old biblical precept 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' should be interpreted literally to the extent of capital punishment.

—Sam F. Lucchese, Atlanta Constitution

Powerfully marshals the evidence to prove the error and the stupidity of the arguments that have been advanced to support capital punishment.

—Henry Weihofen, Saturday Review

Koestler writes with all his well-known novelistic skill when he is giving us case studies of murderers. He also has a nice turn for irony.

—John Chamberlain, The Freeman

Impassioned, eloquent appeals for the removal of an immoral, inhuman, and ineffective form of punishment.

—Lothar Kahn, Books Abroad

About the Author/Editor

ARTHUR KOESTLER (1905-1983) was a novelist, journalist, essayist, and a towering public intellectual of the mid-twentieth century. Writing in both German and English, he published more than forty books during his life. Koestler is perhaps best known for Darkness at Noon, a novel often ranked alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four in its damning portrayal of totalitarianism.