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Here are the stories of the most brutal and infamous prisons in history, including the Bastille, Alcatraz, the Tower of London, and San Quentin.
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Notorious Prisons examines in detail the most brutal and infamous prisons in history, with depictions of original plans; descriptions of the construction, facilities, and policies; and a recounting of what general life for the prisoners was like. The most interesting inmates in each prison are highlighted, describing their crimes, trials, and experiences within the prison. In the Alcatraz section, for instance, are convicts like Robert Stroud, the “birdman,” who inspired the film starring Burt Lancaster. There is an account of the Rosenbergs, and descriptions of what it was like for them to arrive at Devil’s Island.
Here, too, are the details of escapes, like the only near-successful attempt to break out of Alcatraz, perpetrated by the Anglin brothers—a couple of career criminals who dug their way with a spoon through the plaster walls of their cell, then followed a thirty-foot-tall vent to freedom, leaving papier-mâché decoys in their cells.
Then there are the punishments, like the guillotine at the Bastille. And the wrangle over the first electric chair, installed at Sing Sing—including a recounting of Thomas Edison’s gruesome campaign, waged at the expense of test cats, to convince the public that AC was more deadly than DC.
Prisons exist at the strange intersection of cruelty and civil society, and no book has ever detailed the odd excesses of this union as well as Notorious Prisons.
SCOTT CHRISTIANSON is the author of With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America (1998, winner Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Distinguished Honors), Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House, and Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases. He has authored hundreds of articles for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, American Legacy, Journal of American History, and Crime & Delinquency among other publications. He has also written for television, radio, and film. He is a former high-ranking New York State criminal justice official and longtime investigative reporter. He lives in upstate New York.
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