A Handbook on Hanging cover
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Publication date:
October 31, 1999
NYRB Classics
Politics & Current Affairs, Suspense & Crime

A Handbook on Hanging is a Swiftian tribute to that unappreciated mainstay of civilization: the hangman. With barbed insouciance, Charles Duff writes not only of hanging but of electrocution, decapitations, and gassings; of innocent men executed and of executions botched; of the bloodlust of mobs and the shabby excuses of the great. This coruscating and, in contemporary America, very relevant polemic makes clear that whatever else capital punishment may be said to be—justice, vengeance, a deterrent—it is certainly killing.


In its literary aspect it is deftly done. Smoothly, earnestly, unctuously the author carries on his defense of hanging as a fine art and his plea for bigger and better and more frequent hangings, never for a moment forgetting his pose or dropping his disguise, and never giving the reader the least ground for suspecting his good faith…He has made for the crusade against capital punishment a very effective stroke.
The New York Times

A minor classic.
— Dylan Thomas

Likely to upset the equanimity of upholders of capital punishment far more than any ponderous tome of “high explosive” argument or invective.
The Observer