"The Last Gasp" takes us to the dark side of human history in the first full chronicle of the gas chamber in the United States. In page-turning detail, award-winning writer Scott Christianson tells a dreadful story that is full of surprising and provocative new findings. First constructed in Nevada in 1924, the gas chamber, a method of killing sealed off and removed from the sight and hearing of witnesses, was originally touted as a "humane" method of execution. Delving into science, war, industry, medicine, law, and politics, Christianson overturns this mythology for good. He exposes the sinister links between corporations looking for profit, the military, and the first uses of the gas chamber after World War I. He explores little-known connections between the gas chamber and the eugenics movement. Perhaps most controversially, he has unearthed new evidence about American and German collaboration in the production and lethal use of hydrogen cyanide and about Hitler's adoption of gas chamber technology developed in the United States.
More than a book about the death penalty, this compelling history ultimately reveals much about America's values and power structures in the twentieth century.
Scott Christianson is a writer, investigative reporter, and historian. He is the author of several acclaimed books, including With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Distinguished Honors and a Choice Outstanding Book Award. His book Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House was the subject of feature stories in the Village Voice, the New York Times, The Nation, and on the History Channel.
List of Illustrations Acknowledgments Introduction PART ONE THE RISE OF THE LETHAL CHAMBER 1. Envisioning the Lethal Chamber 2. Fashioning a Frightful Weapon of War 3. Devising "Constructive Peacetime Uses" 4. Staging the World's First Gas Execution 5. "Like Watering Flowers" 6. Pillar of Respectability 7. The Rising Storm 8. Adapted for Genocide PART TWO THE FALL OF THE GAS CHAMBER 9. Clouds of Abolition 10. The Battle over Capital Punishment 11 "Cruel and Unusual Punishment"? 12. The Last Gasp Appendix 1: Earl C. Liston's Patent Application Appendix 2: Persons Executed by Lethal Gas in the United States, by State, 1924--1999 Notes Select Bibliography Index