• Let the Lord Sort Them

  • The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty
  • By: Maurice Chammah
  • Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
  • Length: 11 hrs and 25 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (44 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A deeply reported, searingly honest portrait of the death penalty in Texas — and what it tells us about crime and punishment in America

“If you’re one of those people who despair that nothing changes, and dream that something can, this is a story of how it does.” (Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times Book Review)

WINNER OF THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS AWARD

In 1972, the United States Supreme Court made a surprising ruling: The country’s death penalty system violated the Constitution. The backlash was swift, especially in Texas, where executions were considered part of the cultural fabric, and a dark history of lynching was masked by gauzy visions of a tough-on-crime frontier. When executions resumed, Texas quickly became the nationwide leader in carrying out the punishment. Then, amid a larger wave of criminal justice reform, came the death penalty’s decline, a trend so durable that even in Texas the punishment appears again close to extinction. 

In Let the Lord Sort Them, Maurice Chammah charts the rise and fall of capital punishment through the eyes of those it touched. We meet Elsa Alcala, the orphaned daughter of a Mexican American family who found her calling as a prosecutor in the nation’s death penalty capital, before becoming a judge on the state’s highest court. We meet Danalynn Recer, a lawyer who became obsessively devoted to unearthing the life stories of men who committed terrible crimes, and fought for mercy in courtrooms across the state. We meet death row prisoners — many of them once-famous figures like Henry Lee Lucas, Gary Graham, and Karla Faye Tucker — along with their families and the families of their victims. And we meet the executioners, who struggle openly with what society has asked them to do. In tracing these interconnected lives against the rise of mass incarceration in Texas and the country as a whole, Chammah explores what the persistence of the death penalty tells us about forgiveness and retribution, fairness and justice, history and myth.

Written with intimacy and grace, Let the Lord Sort Them is the definitive portrait of a particularly American institution.

©2021 Maurice Chammah (P)2021 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Maurice Chammah’s book comes at an important time.... Chammah embeds well-wrought cultural analysis within the ins and outs of historical narrative.... Chammah zeroes in on one detail at a time, but his intent to provide both texture and breadth is evident.... The accumulation of moments and personalities in the story of the death penalty in America is exactly what makes Chammah’s account so compelling.”­­­­­­ (The Christian Century)

“A searing history of the rise and fall of capital punishment...Let the Lord Sort Them urges readers to reckon with the ugliest aspects of Texas history, and with how the political debate over the death penalty has elided the long-lasting trauma that executions inflict on everyone involved.” (Texas Monthly

“It’s a book pitched straight into the gulf between universal theory and individual experience.” (Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic

What listeners say about Let the Lord Sort Them

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Very Slanted

I was hoping to find reasonable and convincing arguments against the death penalty. The book leaned heavily into the trials of overworked lawyers who fight for their condemned clients. These true believers in a more merciful justice are often just expensive and upsetting roadblocks in the justice system. Ultimately I came away still believing there are some crimes so heinous that the death penalty is justified.

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Excellent and Informative

Chammah does a fantastic job of breaking down the complex and storied history of Capital Punishment, especially in Texas, into easily digestible chapters of specific cases. 10/10 have read in print and listened on Audible

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Excellent scholarship and storytelling

Excellent scholarship and storytelling. it was compelling and informative from beginning to end. And I really liked the depth of the epilogue.