Last Words of the Executed author Robert K. Elder was on NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” recently. Fast forward to 2:02 to see the exact segment.

September 17, 2010


I have an event at the Oak Park Library on Wednesday, Sept. 22 with filmmaker Steve James. He will show clips from his documentary “At the Death House Door” and we’ll talk about capital punishment issues. Complete details here.

Also: I’ll be the lead speaker at Last Words Before Dying: A Symposium on Capital Punishment at  Joliet’s University of St. Francis. The event will be held Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 4 p.m. in the Sexton Auditorium. Come on by, it’s free. Father J. Derran Combs will also deliever on a talk titled, “The Seven Last Words of Christ.”

For my West Coast friends, I’ll be out there Oct. 6-15 on book tour. Details to come.


September 10

Oregon public radio just had me on to chat about “Last Words of the Executed” – listen here:

Also, author Robert K. Elder interviewed by Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie.

September 1

Just announced: I’ve been invited to the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Oct. 16-17. I’ll be on a panel with Thomas Cahill and David R. Dow.

August 5, 2010

The New Yorker (@newyorker) just interviewed me about “Last Words of the Executed” for its Book Bench column, posted here:

New Yorker writer Mary South calls the book “a harrowing portrait of our justice system.”

July 14, 2010’s Nick Gillespie recently interviewed me about “Last Words of the Executed.” It’s a video interview, online here.

Also, a couple radio interviews, notably with:

John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee at WNYC’s The Takeaway, posted here.

The John Carney Show on KMOX, posted here.

July 13, 2010

A ton of new pieces to announce:

1) Charles Simic’s review of “Last Words of the Executed” in the New York Review of Books.
Excerpt: “An enthralling book…recommended reading…Most likely, some of the executed were innocent, while others, who were guilty, had complicated and awful lives; one tends to feel sorry for them and wishes to know more about their stories. It’s when it comes to true monsters, and there are plenty of them here, that even someone like me, who opposes capital punishment, begins to wonder if there ought to be an exception now and then. Take the case of Ted Bundy who killed at least thirty women, and of other serial killers. Whatever side in the argument one habitually takes, this book is recommended reading, so that in addition to learning how we put people to death, one can also put to the test the firmness of one’s convictions.” Read the full review here.

2) The full text of Bryan Appleyard’s review from the Sunday Times of London is now online.
Excerpt: “Only the executed know the time and the place and the manner of their death.The rest of us can count ourselves lucky if we get more than a moment’s notice. Last words recorded for posterity are, therefore, a murderer’s luxury…This is a rich database…This is, in short bursts, a fascinating book. But, having read it all almost at one go, I must warn you that it is also depressing. The mechanisms of judicial death crush you with the burden of human futility and the long parade of executees struggling to make sense of their last moments darkens your day. So take it easy.” Read the full review here.

3) A very thoughtful piece in Chicago’s Stockyard magazine by Sally Weigel.
Excerpt: “With Studs Terkel’s recent death, Elder carries on the journalistic approach that the former historian mastered…One of Elder’s most chilling curatorial decisions is to place the factual information after the quotations themselves.”

4) David Yount’s piece for the Scripps Howard News Service.
Excerpt: “Unfortunately, many of us are so preoccupied with daily living that we resist putting into words the things we have valued and the persons we loved during our earthly sojourn.”

July 1, 2010

“Last Words of the Executed” is excerpted in Playboy’s July issue, page 121, in the Forum.

Now you can say you read Playboy for the articles.

June 29, 2010

A review except from The Sunday Times of London:

“This is, in short bursts, a fascinating book. But, having read it almost in one go, I must warn you that it is also depressing. The mechanisms of judicial death crush you with the burden of human futility and the long parade of executees struggling to make sense of their last moments darkens your day. So take it easy.”

You can read the full interview here, though you have to go through a free registration

June 19, 2010

Canada’s National Post excerpted “Last Words of the Executed” today, including the quote: “Rock and roll me when I’m dead…”

Full story:

June 11, 2010 (part 2)

I’ll be on Book TV tomorrow!

On June 12, CSPAN-2’s BOOK TV broadcasts from the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest. I’ll be on live from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. CT. See me live or in person.

June 11, 2010 asked me to write about the last words of executed prisoners that haunt me. It’s now published here:

June 10, 2010

A piece from the Catholic Review Online today. An excerpt: “…at varying times surprising, consoling and disturbing – and always riveting.”

Read the full review here.


June 9, 2010 (Part Two)

A quick reminder to all that tomorrow is the Big Book Bash in Chicago.


June 10, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to dawn, MC’ed by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, Hosted by Stop Smiling, 1371 N Milwaukee Avenue

Also, video has been posted from the talk Jonathan Eig (“Get Capone”) & I gave at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. We talked about where his book, gangsters & “Last Words of the Executed” meet.

June 9, 2010

A whole bunch of stories and blog links today.

First, an amazing, hour-long interview with amazing interview with Radio Times at WHYY by Marty Moss-Coane. Thanks to producer Denis Devine for finding actual recordings of last words and recruiting staff members to read other selections. You can listen to the full interview here and here:

2) The nice folks at The Outfit asked me to guest blog. That is posted here and here:

3) The Onion AV Club interviewed me about “Last Words of the Executed.” Read it here:

4) Seattle’s The Stranger wrote this on its blog today: “No matter how you feel about the death penalty, you’ll be hypnotized by this book.” Read the entire review here and

5) For those of you in Chicago, I’ll be on Eight Forty-Eight this morning. Check it at 91.5 FM in Chicago, or here via streaming or here:

June 2, 2010

Two amazing reviews today, one from Chicago Tribune:

Those with no interest in using the book to make the case against capital punishment (or, for that matter, to justify the death penalty) should still find it worthwhile reading. I hesitate to use the word “entertaining” to describe the text. “Compelling” is more appropriate. Still, it was hard to stifle a smile after learning how one man facing the firing squad in Utah responded when asked if he had a last request. “Why yes, a bulletproof vest,” he replied.

More sobering were the words of inmates who just wanted to be done with it. “I wish you’d hurry up?” John Owens told his executioners in Wyoming in 1886. “I want to get to hell in time for dinner.”

While we hear from historically significant characters like Nathan Hale and those who assassinated presidents Garfield and McKinley, I was moved most by the words of a little known young African American from an upper middle class family…

Read the full review here.

The second review comes from NewCity:

“If the book is intellectually engaging as a historical document, then it is emotionally immersive as a series of psychological snapshots…it’s hard not to feel a kind of uneasy intimacy with the speakers; we’re privy, after all, to a private moment made public by state ritual.”

The read full review here.


May 30, 2010

The most thoughtful review of the book to date from The Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“Words That Haunt: Robert K. Elder’s fascinating yet disturbing collection of final statements…The book at once evokes the sense of pathos and finality surrounding the executions, and yet after a point there’s a rote-ness, a terrifying familiarity to these last moments. The book is at once thick with emotion and desensitizing. Elder himself is relatively poker-faced…”

Read the full review here.


May 26, 2010

I’ll be on Book TV!

On June 12, CSPAN-2’s BOOK TV broadcasts LIVE from the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest. I’ll be on live from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. CT.

Check your local listings.

The full broadcast slate is here.



We have events scheduled! Live readings with local actors!

Coming to a city near you.

Right now, they are: Chicago, New York and Milwaukee.
(The West Coast tour comes in the fall.)

June 10, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to dawn, MC’ed by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan,
Hosted by Stop Smiling, 1371 N Milwaukee Avenue

June 12, Saturday at 4 p.m., Printer’s Row Book Fair
Chicago’s South Loop

June 24, Thursday at 7 p.m., Quimby’s event with guest readers
Hosted by Quimby’s, 1854 W. North Avenue, Chicago.

July 9, Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., appearance on The Mark Bazer Show
Hosted by The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia

August 13, Friday at 7 p.m., an event with guest readers
Hosted by Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 W. Madison Street, Forest Park

Sept. 22, Wednesday at 7 p.m., reading and film excerpt with Steve James, director of “Hoop Dreams” and “At the Death House Door.”
Hosted by Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake Street, Oak Park

New York City
June 7, Monday from 7 to 9 p.m., an event with guest readers
Hosted by Bluestockings Books, 172 Allen Street, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side

July 8, Thursday at 7 p.m., an event with guest readers
Hosted by Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Avenue, Milwaukee


Past events:

May 20, Thursday at 4 p.m. Crain Lecture – Crime & Punishment, a book event with Robert K. Elder (that’s me) & Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone
Hosted by Northwestern University at the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive

May 26th, Wednesday at 6 p.m. Leon Despres Memorial Lecture, a reading with actors
Hosted by the Blackstone Library in Hyde Park, 4904 S. Lake Park Avenue


May 3, 2010

Sean Chercover, author of Trigger City, just wrote:

“By compiling the last words of people put to death by the state in America, juxtaposed against details of their crimes and victims, Robert K. Elder has created an extraordinary book.  No matter which side of the capital punishment divide you find yourself, LAST WORDS OF THE EXECUTED is a must-read.  Because this is not a political book, but a human journey.  You may find your beliefs challenged, changed, or reaffirmed, but you will not come away unaffected.”


May 1, 2010

My first reading for Last Words of the Executed is this Tuesday, May 4, at 7 p.m.

Hosted by The Parlor,1511 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor, in lovely Chicago, IL.

See you there!

More news to come on my East Coast tour (June 3-10) and West Coast tour (fall, 2010).


April 30, 2010

Check out the review of Last Words of the Executed in the April 29 print edition of The Economist, also available online.

Excerpt: “The last words are remarkable for their remorse, humour, hatred, resignation, fear and bravado…America’s diverse heritage is stamped even onto its killers’ final moments.”

Read the complete review here.


April 20, 2010

I just got word that Steve James, director of At the Death House Door and Hoop Dreams, will join me for a reading at the Oak Park Public Library on Wednesday, June 23.

I’m hoping we can show some film clips and have a discussions on stage. Stay tuned for more details.


April 19, 2010 (part 2)

Last Words of the Executed was just reviewed in Harper’s Magazine!

Here’s an excerpt:

“As harrowing as it is to read about slave owners and Nazis, one can be consoled by the thought that they (theoretically, at least) lie safely buried in the past. By contrast, there is something particularly nauseating about knowing that one’s own country stands proudly alongside China, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar in embracing legal murder. Even though the topic is polemical, Elder’s book is dispassionate: the ‘last words’ are printed above a sober description of the dead person’s purported crimes.”
—May 2010 issue, pages 71-72


April 19. 2010

Thanks to the reader who caught an error in our uncorrected manuscript.

In the Firing Squad section, the book quotes a section of Doctrines of Salvation, a set of writings by Joseph Fielding Smith, grand-nephew of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Although the quote is accurate, we left out “Fielding”–which attributes it to the wrong Smith. So, mea culpa and my sincerest apologies.

So, thanks for helping us set the record straight. The error will be corrected in all future printings of the book.


March 2010

Check out our PRESS section for incoming review quotes about the book….


Feb.15, 2010

We got a very nice cover quote from Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, “This is a dangerous book. Who knows how we will emerge from the encounter? It makes me want to live, to use my energies in soul-sized pursuits like justice, like love…”