Books That Made a Difference to Steve Earle

The triple-threat artist has a new album, a novel, and a role on the HBO series Treme. But his real love is reading, and reading again.
Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

In Cold Blood

343 pages; Random House
"One of my main areas of activism is against the death penalty—and that's largely because of this 'nonfiction novel,'" Steve Earle says. "Capote's fascinating as a writer, and he's fascinating as a cautionary tale, like Jack Kerouac. He's the antithesis of people like Allen Ginsberg, people who were more disciplined and lived longer and left behind large bodies of work. Still, this book was life-changing for me. My very first nonfiction piece, about being an eyewitness to an execution, was inspired by it. Reading this book led me to stand outside prisons while people were being executed. It led me to hold a mother's hand while her son was being given a lethal injection inside the prison. I don't want to do that again; I don't have it in me to do that again. Truman Capote made me see that the death penalty dehumanizes everyone on both sides of the equation. It diminishes everyone it touches. It is something we just shouldn't do."
— As told to Sara Nelson