Tuesday, January 3, 2012


David Garland's Peculiar Institution came out about a year ago, but I'm only starting to read it now, a fact I owe to Andrew Scull, who picked this as his personal choice for book of the year in the TLS 2011 roundup and wrote the following capsule review to justify the choice:

My adopted country likes to fry people. Or stick needles in their arms and dispose of them like unwanted animals. More accurately, some portions of the American confederation like to do this sort of thing. Those in the Deep South seem to go at it with particular gusto, even when the person being ritually sacrificed is barely an adult, or is mentally retarded. Indeed, some states don't hesitate to put people to death even when grave doubts exist about their guilt. The latest Texas yahoo to run for President boasts of how many people he has put to death during his term as Governor, and draws howls of approval from his audience. How is it that the USA alone among Western societies clings to such barbarity? David Garland's Peculiar Institution (Harvard) the evocation of the stain of slavery is quite deliberate provides a deeply thoughtful and original explanation of this phenomenon. Subtle and provocative, it deserves a wide audience.