100 books like The Faithful Executioner

By Joel F. Harrington,

Here are 100 books that The Faithful Executioner fans have personally recommended if you like The Faithful Executioner. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Art of Executing Well: Rituals of Execution in Renaissance Italy

Una McIlvenna Author Of Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900

From my list on the history of capital punishment.

Who am I?

When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards. 

Una's book list on the history of capital punishment

Una McIlvenna Why did Una love this book?

It’s not often I’m moved to tears by an academic book, but this book did it for me by putting me in the shoes of a Florentine patrician trying to comfort his friend the night before his execution. The main historical source of the book is an extraordinary ‘how-to’ manual: the one used by the ‘comforting confraternities’ of 16th-century Bologna, men who volunteered to spiritually prepare condemned criminals for their final moments on earth and, in so doing, hopefully increase their chances of salvation. The book explains the various methods and tools that the comforter could use, including prayers, songs, and pictures, and reveals the complex rituals of execution that began long before the prisoner’s arrival at the scaffold. A moving account of the realities of historical capital punishment.

By Nicholas Terpstra (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Executing Well as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Renaissance Italy a good execution was both public and peaceful―at least in the eyes of authorities. In a feature unique to Italy, the people who prepared a condemned man or woman spiritually and psychologically for execution were not priests or friars, but laymen. This volume includes some of the songs, stories, poems, and images that they used, together with first-person accounts and ballads describing particular executions. Leading scholars expand on these accounts explaining aspects of the theater, psychology, and politics of execution.

The main text is a manual, translated in English for the first time, on how to comfort…


Book cover of Tyburn's Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675-1775

Una McIlvenna Author Of Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900

From my list on the history of capital punishment.

Who am I?

When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards. 

Una's book list on the history of capital punishment

Una McIlvenna Why did Una love this book?

McKenzie looks at the extraordinary phenomenon of the 'last dying speech' that condemned prisoners in Britain got to give from the scaffold. In particular, she explores events at Tyburn, London's most notorious execution site, in the 18th century, exploring how this period saw an explosion of printed literature that featured the criminal as an Everyman from whom everyone could learn a harsh lesson in morality. It's a fantastic exploration of the reality of the gallows versus what one could read in print: from the 'game' highwayman who refused to bow to society's expectations to the fearful, trembling prisoner who begged for mercy. Totally fascinating. 

By Andrea McKenzie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tyburn's Martyrs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The public execution at Tyburn is one of the most evocative and familiar of all eighteenth-century images. Whether it elicits horror or prurient fascination - or both - the Tyburn hanging day has become synonymous with the brutality of a bygone age and a legal system which valued property over human life.But, as this fascinating cultural and social history of the gallows reveals, the early modern execution was far more than just a debased spectator sport. The period between the Restoration and the American Revolution witnessed the rise and fall of a vast body of execution literature - last dying…


Book cover of The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe

Una McIlvenna Author Of Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900

From my list on the history of capital punishment.

Who am I?

When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards. 

Una's book list on the history of capital punishment

Una McIlvenna Why did Una love this book?

An art history book might not seem like the most obvious choice for a list like this, but this one is a revelation: we often forget that Crucifixion paintings are scenes of capital punishment. Merback looks at crucifixion images of northern European masters of the late medieval and early modern period, and reveals that the often mangled positions of the limbs of the two thieves on either side of Christ are depictions of the kinds of mutilations that spectators regularly witnessed on the bodies of those broken on the wheel (where the limbs were smashed and then 'woven' through the spokes of a cartwheel - no, really). This study is important not only for understanding the physical practices of execution on the Continent, but also for exploring the profound religious significance of the entire execution ritual. 

By Mitchell B. Merback,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text reconstructs the religious, legal and historical context of the Crucifixion and of other images of public torture. The result is an account of a time when criminal justice and religion were entirely interrelated and punishment was a visual spectacle devoured by a popular audience. Mitchell Merback compares the images of Christ's Crucifixion with those of the two thieves who met their fate beside Jesus. In paintings by well-known Northern European masters and provincial painters alike, Merback finds the two thieves subjected to incredible cruelty, cruelty that artists could not depict in their scenes of Christ's Crucifixion because of…


Book cover of Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France

Una McIlvenna Author Of Singing the News of Death: Execution Ballads in Europe 1500-1900

From my list on the history of capital punishment.

Who am I?

When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards. 

Una's book list on the history of capital punishment

Una McIlvenna Why did Una love this book?

Many think that the medieval period was the era of cruel and sadistic punishment, but it was, in fact, the Renaissance that saw the rise of the great spectacle of the 'theatre of horror': scaffolds erected to display the brutal dismemberment and suffering of executed prisoners in front of thousands of spectators. Although it focuses on France, Friedland's study explores why, all across Europe, this period saw an appetite for something so graphic. It explores the history of capital punishment from the Romans onwards, so it's essential reading for the theory behind executions, but the real strength lies in its exploration of the gulf between what theorists believed and what the general public actually did at executions, and why they attended in their thousands. 

By Paul Friedland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seeing Justice Done as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, capital punishment in France, as in many other countries, was staged before large crowds of spectators. Paul Friedland traces the theory and practice of public executions over time, both from the perspective of those who staged these punishments as well as from the vantage point of the many thousands who came to "see justice done". While penal theorists often stressed that the fundamental purpose of public
punishment was to strike fear in the hearts of spectators, the eagerness with which crowds flocked to executions and the extent to which spectators actually…


Book cover of The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868

Lucienne Boyce Author Of The Fatal Coin: A Dan Foster novella

From my list on historical stories about the common people.

Who am I?

I write historical fiction, non-fiction, and biography. My historical fiction is set in the eighteenth century, which is often pictured as a time when people swanned about in fancy clothes, lived on country estates, travelled in gleaming carriages, and dined and danced their nights away in glittering assembly rooms. But most people didn’t live like that at all, although they are the ones who made the clothes, worked on the estates, drove the carriages, cooked the food, and cleaned the rooms. The books on my list focus on history from their point of view. In my own work – fiction and non-fiction – I’m also interested in telling the stories of so-called “ordinary” people.

Lucienne's book list on historical stories about the common people

Lucienne Boyce Why did Lucienne love this book?

The Hanging Tree is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read about how the other half (more like seven-eights actually) lived. It describes the experience of the mainly lower-class people who suffered under the Bloody Code, when over 250 offences carried the death penalty. By using diaries, memoirs, broadsides, petitions for mercy, letters, and other contemporary documents, Gatrell gives voice to the executed, their executioners, witnesses, reformers, judges and juries. It’s an unflinching study of a ghastly reality that goes to the heart of what it means to be a civilized society and challenges several cozy myths along the way. I admit it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, and of course, the subject matter is dark, but Gatrell is a compelling writer, vivid, forthright and passionate.

By V.A.C. [Vic] Gatrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hanging Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hanging people for small crimes as well as grave, the Bloody Penal Code was at its most active between 1770 and 1830. In those years some 7,000 men and women were executed on public scaffolds, watched by thousands. Hanging was confined to murderers thereafter, but these were still killed in public until 1868. Clearly the gallows loomed over much of social life in this period. But how did those who watched, read about, or ordered these strangulations feel about the
terror and suffering inflicted in the law's name? What kind of justice was delivered, and how did it change?

This…


Book cover of Exit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany

Michael Hickins Author Of The Silk Factory: Finding Threads of My Family's True Holocaust Story

From my list on the Holocaust and generational trauma.

Who am I?

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the Holocaust, which is that my father lost some members of his family. An email from a nephew I didn’t know existed sent me on a trail of documents that led me to a much deeper understanding of not just the Holocaust as a historical event, but more broadly about the impact that it had on the families of survivors, of people who were spared internment for one reason or another, but were wracked by guilt, besieged by family members who were not so lucky, and who passed down their feelings of guilt, anger, and pessimism to future generations.

Michael's book list on the Holocaust and generational trauma

Michael Hickins Why did Michael love this book?

Even those of us who are familiar with historical details of the Holocaust have a mostly generalized understanding of the fraught relationships between US-based Jews and Jews in Europe.

Bonelli uses primary source materials, mainly letters, to inform a very well-crafted narrative in service of educating American Jews about the travails of European Jewry and helps explain the older generation of Jews to an often-befuddled younger generation.

By Charlotte R. Bonelli, Natascha Bodemann (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exit Berlin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The agonizing correspondence between Jewish family members ensnared in the Nazi grip and their American relatives

Just a week after the Kristallnacht terror in 1938, young Luzie Hatch, a German Jew, fled Berlin to resettle in New York. Her rescuer was an American-born cousin and industrialist, Arnold Hatch. Arnold spoke no German, so Luzie quickly became translator, intermediary, and advocate for family left behind. Soon an unending stream of desperate requests from German relatives made their way to Arnold's desk.

Luzie Hatch had faithfully preserved her letters both to and from far-flung relatives during the World War II era as…


Book cover of Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power

Katja Hoyer Author Of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire; 1871-1918

From my list on German history that aren't about the Nazis.

Who am I?

I was born in East Germany and experienced the disappearance of that country and the huge changes that followed as a child. My history teachers reflected this fracture in the narratives they constructed, switching between those they had grown up with and the new version they had been told to teach after 1990. It struck me how little resemblance the neat division of German history into chapters and timelines bears to people’s actual lives which often span one or even several of Germany’s radical fault lines. My fascination with my country’s fractured memory has never left me since. 

Katja's book list on German history that aren't about the Nazis

Katja Hoyer Why did Katja love this book?

Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, has always been a subject of fascination to me. Often portrayed as a caricature of the archetypical Prussian and blamed single-handedly for the outbreak of the First World War, the man behind the historical figure has remained an enigma. Very little has been written about him in Germany itself. Christopher Clark, who is perhaps better known for his seminal work The Sleepwalkers and his excellent biography of Prussia, Iron Kingdom, has done a great job tackling this delicate subject. Neither tied down by the weight of German memory culture nor by the constraints of academic writing, Clark’s biography of Kaiser Wilhelm is readable, informative and well-balanced. I would highly recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand Germany before and during the First World War.

By Christopher Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kaiser Wilhelm II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christopher Clark's Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power is a short, fascinating and accessible biography of one of the 20th century's most important figures.

King of Prussia, German Emperor, war leader and defeated exile, Kaiser Wilhelm II was one of the most important - and most controversial - figures in the history of twentieth-century Europe. But how much power did he really have?
Christopher Clark, winner of the Wolfson prize for his history of Prussia, Iron Kingdom, follows Kaiser Wilhelm's political career from his youth at the Hohenzollern court through the turbulent decades of the Wilhelmine era into global…


Book cover of A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany

Moritz Föllmer Author Of Culture in the Third Reich

From my list on life in Nazi Germany.

Who am I?

As a historian at the University of Amsterdam, one of my concerns is to understand why so many Germans supported and participated in Adolf Hitler’s atrocious political project. I am equally interested in the other side: the Nazis’ political opponents and victims. In two decades of researching, writing, and teaching, I have read large numbers of official documents, newspapers, diaries, novels, and memoirs. These contemporary texts have made me vividly aware of how different people lived through the Nazi years, how they envisioned their lives, and how they remembered them after World War II. The questions they faced and the solutions they found continue to challenge and disconcert me.  

Moritz's book list on life in Nazi Germany

Moritz Föllmer Why did Moritz love this book?

Historian Mark Roseman interviewed Marianne Ellenbogen née Strauss in a suburban house near Liverpool. After she passed away, her son shared with him the diaries and letters he found in the attic. In the summer of 1943 Marianne escaped deportation and hid in various places across Germany, supported by a little-known network of unorthodox socialists. Her life under Nazism was horrible—yet strangely liberating. She flourished away from her strict parents but was still traumatized at leaving them behind. The fate of someone who repeatedly changed her German, Jewish, political, and indeed personal identity will move you emotionally as well as stimulate you intellectually. All along, Marianne struggled to maintain control over her own story—which makes A Past in Hiding a brilliant title for an outstanding book.   

By Mark Roseman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Past in Hiding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heart-stopping survivor story and brilliant historical investigation that offers unprecedented insight into daily life in the Third Reich and the Holocaust and the powers and pitfalls of memory.

At the outbreak of World War II, Marianne Strauss, the sheltered daughter of well-to-do German Jews, was an ordinary girl, concerned with studies, friends, and romance. Almost overnight she was transformed into a woman of spirit and defiance, a fighter who, when the Gestapo came for her family, seized the moment and went underground. On the run for two years, Marianne traveled across Nazi Germany without papers, aided by a remarkable…


Book cover of Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)

Peter H. Wilson Author Of Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500

From my list on German military history saying something different.

Who am I?

I have been drawn to the history of the German lands ever since I opened a historical atlas as a child and wondered why the middle of Europe was a colorful patchwork compared to the solid blocks depicting other countries. I then wondered how the people living under this multitude of authorities could manage their affairs, resolve differences, and defend themselves against each other and outsiders. Digging deeper into these questions has unearthed fascinating stories, not all of them pleasant, but which also shed light on the complexities of our shared existence. 

Peter's book list on German military history saying something different

Peter H. Wilson Why did Peter love this book?

The Thirty Years War remains seared into the popular consciousness across Germany and Austria as a momentous catastrophe against which other conflicts are still measured.

The conflict was indeed terrible, yet its impact was uneven across time, place, social status, and gender.

Sigrun Haude writes sympathetically about how ordinary people coped with calamity whilst skillfully weaving individual stories with the wider dynamic of military and political events. 

By Sigrun Haude,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At its core, Coping with Life during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) explores how people tried to survive the Thirty Years' War, on what resources they drew, and how they attempted to make sense of it. A rich tapestry of stories brings to light contemporaries' trauma as well as women and men's unrelenting initiatives to stem the war's negative consequences. Through these close-ups, Sigrun Haude shows that experiences during the Thirty Years' War were much more diverse and often more perplexing than a straightforward story line of violence and destruction can capture. Life during the Thirty Years' War was not…


Book cover of Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home

Jennifer Lang Author Of Places We Left Behind: A Memoir-in-Miniature

From my list on home and why it isn’t obvious for everyone.

Who am I?

For my first 18 years, I slept in the same room (opposite my parents) in the same house (116 Monticello Avenue) in the same city (Piedmont) in the same state (CA) in the same country (USA), but soon after leaving for college in Evanston, IL, I pined for elsewhere and ended up peripatetic. That peripateticness plagued me, as a woman/wife/mother. While growing our family, my French husband and I moved: Israel to France to California to New York to Israel to New York to Israel. Finally, in my early fifties, I understood home is more about who you are than where you live. 

Jennifer's book list on home and why it isn’t obvious for everyone

Jennifer Lang Why did Jennifer love this book?

A difficult-to-categorize story (illustrated memoir, graphic memoir, is it even memoir?), Belonging is about a young girl growing up in Karlsruhe, Germany, where she notices something strange in their backyard. But when she asks her mother, she doesn't get a clear answer.

Decades later, after leaving home in search of something unnamable, she returns to confront her family, their past, her country of birth, its past, and to own it. Throughout the colorful, inventive pages, Krug incorporated her illustrations, photos, archival research, German products, family tree, and more as she tells the story of Heimat—what it means to belong.

After hearing her speak and reading her book, I knew words did not suffice to tell my own story.  

By Nora Krug,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Belonging as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award * Silver Medal Society of Illustrators *

* Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Comics Beat, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Kirkus Reviews, andLibrary Journal

This“ingenious reckoning with the past” (The New York Times), by award-winning artist Nora Krug investigates the hidden truths of her family’s wartime history in Nazi Germany.

Nora Krug was born decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, but the Second World War cast a long shadow over her childhood and youth in the city…


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