The Autobiography of an Execution


Author: David R. Dow

Title:  The Autobiography of an Execution

Genre:  Nonfiction

Publication Date:  2010

Number of Pages:  288

Geographical Setting:  Houston, Texas

Time Period:  21st century

Series:  N/A

Plot Summary:  David Dow is a husband, father, university professor, and defender of death row inmates.  In The Autobiography of an Execution, Dow blends tales of his imperfect domestic life with accounts of a deeply flawed Texas penal system.  Since 1989, Dow has fought to get his clients – convicted murderers – stays of execution, if only for a few days or hours.  In Dow’s world, prosecutors hide evidence and police lie, lawyers fall asleep during their clients’ trials and judges go home early on scheduled execution days.  A victory for Dow may mean his client lives only one more day.  The author’s love of the law is his motivator; he does not respect his clients, and he rarely even likes them.

Once the pragmatic lawyer becomes convinced that one of his clients, Henry Quaker, convicted of murdering his wife and two children, is actually innocent, he effectively and dramatically transports the reader into the Texas legal world.  Dow and his colleagues attempt a myriad of legal maneuvers in order to have Quaker spared in the days, hours, and minutes before his scheduled execution.

As the personal toll of Quaker’s case wears on Dow, he struggles to balance his love for his family with his love of the law.  The Autobiography of an Execution is a candid and personal look at the legal and emotional issues enveloping the death penalty.

Subject Headings:

Law teachers –Texas –Houston –Biography.

Capital punishment –Texas.

Biographies & Memoirs –Professional & Academics –Lawyers & Judges.

Crime & Criminals –Penology.

Law –Law Practice.

Appeal: compelling, engrossing, closely observed characters, authentic, episodic, issue-oriented, thought-provoking, contemporary, candid, sobering, foreboding, jargon, smart

3 terms that best describe this book: candid, sobering, absorbing

Similar Authors and Works:


1.  Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean (a nun’s view of the death penalty; appeals to those interested in personal death penalty perspectives)

2.  Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo (a co-written memoir of a man wrongly accused of rape and the woman who mistakenly identified him; appeals to readers interested in exonerated or wrongly accused criminals)

3.  Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson (a researched history of American penology and retribution, specifically the Texas penal system; appeals to readers interested in how both rehabilitation and retribution are elements of U.S. prisons)


1.  End of the Line: Five Short Novels about the Death Penalty by Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Herman Melville, and Leonid Andreyev; edited by Susan Ives (fictional works of authors with interesting views on the death penalty, might appeal to a reader of interested in the history and context of the death penalty in literature)

2.  The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel by Michael Connelly (a defense lawyer representing some unsavory characters takes on a possibly innocent client; might appeal to readers looking for a novelized version of Dow’s professional life)

3. Conviction: A Novel by Richard North Patterson (lawyer Teresa Peralta Paget fights to stop the execution of a convicted murderer is sentenced to die; appeals to fiction readers interested in not only courtroom drama, but also the complexities of death penalty laws)

Name: Elizabeth

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