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... last meal. By Jacquelyn C. Black
Common Courage, $12.95

The last meal is a peculiar institution, a small kindness to the condemned just when it matters least. In this book, New York-based artist Black plays with that absurdity to create a quiet, disturbing indictment of capital punishment as she profiles the final meal requests of 23 Texas death-row inmates. Some, such as an electrician who wanted tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, cheeseburgers, and chocolate milkshakes, demand a gut-busting array of delicacies, one last earthly blowout. Others keep their final requests simple, such as the musician who ordered only a single apple. Each entry is preceded by a small black-and-white mug shot of the condemned, and ends with a starkly contrasting full-color photo of the meal he ordered. Interspersed with the photos are bite-size factoids on both the logistics of the last meal (always served two hours before execution) and facts about the capital-punishment system in general. All by itself, ... last meal. contains far too little hard data to spur any real reforms in the criminal justice system. But while it's tempting to read it as a sop to morbid curiosity, the book does effectively force the reader to consider the morality of the death penalty. The act of eating is so universal, and an individual's choice of food so revealing, that Black's simple photographs go a long way toward humanizing people often dismissed offhand as monsters. -- Mike Rosen-Molina


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