Over the past three decades, the United States has embraced the death penalty with tenacious enthusiasm. While most of those countries whose legal systems and cultures are normally compared to the United States have abolished capital punishment, the United States continues to employ this ultimate tool of punishment. The death penalty has achieved an unparalleled prominence in America's public life and left an indelible imprint on politics and culture. It has also provoked intense scholarly debate, much of it devoted to explaining the roots of American exceptionalism. This book takes a different approach to the issue by examining the historical and theoretical assumptions that have underpinned the discussion of capital punishment in the United States today. At various times the death penalty has been portrayed as an anachronism, an inheritance, or an innovation, with little reflection on the consequences that flow from the choice of words. This book represents an effort to restore the sense of capital punishment as a question caught up in history. The chapters pursue different strategies for unsettling the usual terms of the debate. In particular, the chapters use comparative and historical investigations of both Europe and America in order to cast fresh light on familiar questions about the meaning of capital punishment.