The death penalty is a mystery in our midst. Europe has done away with it, and that does not seem to have hurt the continent. The United States is retentionist, and the execution of under-aged, and mentally handicapped, convicts has given it a reputation that is not worth envying. Some may have heard of the ‘Executioner’s Current’, where, fighting a corporate battle with Westinghouse, Edison is said to have tried to get Westinghouse’s Alternating Current to be used for the electric chair so that that would be dubbed the ‘killer current’, leaving virtue with Edison’s Direct Current. Such tales that should provide us caution abound. Yet, the logic, and politics, of the death penalty is heavily under-researched, and so remains poorly understood, in the part of the world that we inhabit. Given the extraordinary power that this punishment vests in the state, this incurious condition is not quite excusable; yet, it is a fact. This tremendous effort to investigate the death penalty in Asia is an opportunity to fathom the meaning of punishment, interrogate the nature of state power, and understand how international law has developed, and why. The Indian reader may be somewhat disappointed at finding the Indian experience tucked away in an appendix. But the tracking of the deployment, and occasional disappearance, of the death penalty in other countries that are part of our extended land mass holds so many lessons in history, politics, and civil liberties that this seeming neglect may quickly cease to matter. A disturbing finding in this study that spans Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and China —along with capsules on North Korea, Hong Kong and Macao, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and India — is the extent to which the death penalty is really about state power over its people, and how marginally about deterrence from crime and criminality. When it appears that Japan ensures that “at least one execution occurs in every calendar year” so as to forestall the possibility of a moratorium, as also to avert “a sense of crisis” as the population on death row approaches a hundred, it should make us worry about what this penalty actually means. And,what if this country, Japan, retains this power to take life despite proven miscarriages of justice resulting from “false confessions and from prosecutors’ non-disclosure of evidence to the defence —problems that continue to plague Japanese criminal justice to this day”? The use of the death penalty against political adversaries has been a recognised tactic of states. In South Korea, for instance, eight men were executed in 1975 for treason, as socialists. In 2007, there was a retrial where the Seoul Central District Court acquitted all eight. (Of course, they were all dead by then; but their reputations were resurrected.) An earlier investigation had concluded that they had been framed on the orders of President Park, “at a time when activists and college students were demonstrating against his dictatorship.” There is a moratorium in place in South Korea, but this is an uneasy substitute for abolition, which surely should have been the consequence of this demonstrated abuse of the power to kill. In any event, this raises questions about how wrongful use and application of this penalty will even be acknowledged in countries where retrials are not known, and where verdicts are not revisited once they acquire ‘finality’. China and Taiwan have been difficult countries to research, and there is cause to thank the authors for having so painstakingly put together the jigsaw, even if woefully incomplete, in relation to them. These are deeply disturbing chapters to read, and should incite a reaction even amongst the most sanguine. There are times in the reading of the book when the neutral tone of the scholar comes in the way of challenging or lending meaning to questions about the death penalty; for instance, where the effect the rhetoric of terrorism has (or does not have) on the retention and use of the death penalty remains unspoken. It does seem, as it is depicted in the book, that we are passing through times when, for diverse reasons, the death penalty is on the wane. Alongside, and somewhat contradictorily, it would appear that too many states in Asia are clinging to the symbolic power it represents over the life of its people. This is as good a time as any to look for facts and understand the politics of power over life that is, in part, represented by the death penalty.