ITHACA, N.Y.—Buffalo Street Books will be hosting a discussion Thursday between journalist, author and former Cornellian Maurice Chammah and Heather Furnas, an Ithacan and Johns Hopkins University Librarian, regarding Chammah’s new book, “Let the Lord Sort Them: the Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty.” 

Let the Lord Sort Them: the Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty” is written “through the eyes of people actually affected by the punishment in some way,’ from people on death row to lawyers to family members of murder victims to executioners.” It won the J. Anthony Lukas Project Prize, an award for non-fiction research and literature, in 2019.

Chammah’s intention for writing the book was to share with readers all of the heartbreaking human stories he had encountered over the years, and encourage a richer conversation about why American society has the death penalty and whether we, as a society, should continue to maintain it.

“Ultimately, I hope this book helps people become more informed citizens, especially when they vote or serve on juries,” he said.

Additionally, when asked what sparked his interest in the death penalty, Chammah responded that his hometown of Austin, Texas, and his previous job roles had a tremendous impact on that passion—he had worked at an organization that kept oral histories of the death penalty. This previous experience caused him to realize how important it was for society to hear how our collective choices affect all of those surrounded by, or directly involved, in the execution. Chammah also is currently working with the Marshall Project, a non-profit online journalism organization that focuses solely on the criminal justice system, and subsequently the death penalty. 

“The U.S. criminal justice system as a whole has grown incredibly punitive in the last 50 years, and the death penalty has played a key role, as the most extreme way we as a society respond to crime, in effect saying that some people, due to their actions, have forfeited their right to live,” he said. “That philosophy trickles down, rendering even very long prison sentences less extreme by comparison.”

From 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2021, patrons can join in on this discussion at Buffalo Street Books, located in the Dewitt Mall.