20,000 Years in Sing Sing by Lewis E. Lawes
20,000 Years in Sing Sing by Lewis E. Lawes

With notorious rare book thief William Jacques jailed once again, AbeBooks is showcasing some of the finest prison literature ever published.

Call it the Slammer, the Big House, the Pokey or the Clink, prison remains a place no-one wishes to go but everyone wants to read about. The vast majority of people will never step inside one but everyone can imagine what jailbird life must be like.

Authors, both fiction and non-fiction writers, have considered almost every aspect of imprisonment – the solitude of a life sentence, the culture and the contraband, the escapes, the torture, the miscarriages of justice and the innocent souls, the warders, the political and war-time prison camps, and the letters and visits.  Even the slang, the tattoos and the last meals of those on Death Row have been documented.

Countless books, from The Count of Monte Cristo to Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, have touched upon prison life but our selection of 25 books highlights novels and real-life accounts where doing time is at the absolute heart of the story.

Fictional Prison Literature

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon
Arthur Koestler

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

Hocus Pocus
Kurt Vonnegut

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Invitation to a Beheading
Vladimir Nabokov

The 25th Hour by David Benioff

The 25th Hour
David Benioff

Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon

Kalisha Buckhanon

Falconer by John Cheever

John Cheever

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters

The Brethren by John Grisham

The Brethren
John Grisham

Non Fiction Prison Literature

Papillon by Henri Charriere

Henri Charrière

Birdman of Alcatraz by Thomas E. Gaddis

Birdman of Alcatraz
Thomas E. Gaddis

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

The Executioner's Song
Norman Mailer

Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean

Dead Man Walking
Sister Helen Prejean

Midnight Express by Billy Hayes & William Hoffer

Midnight Express
Billy Hayes & William Hoffer

One Day in My Life by Bobby Sands

One Day in My Life
Bobby Sands

Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan

Borstal Boy
Brendan Behan

Meals to Die For by Brian Price

Meals to Die For
Brian Price

The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill

The Great Escape
Paul Brickhill

Discipline & Punish by Michel Foucault

Discipline & Punish
Michel Foucault

In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Henry Abbott

In the Belly of the Beast
Jack Henry Abbott

King Rat by James Clavell

King Rat
James Clavell

People's Prison by Geoffrey Jackson

People's Prison
Geoffrey Jackson

Manslaughter United by Chris Hulme

Manslaughter United
Chris Hulme

Related Features

The Most Devilish BooksMurder on the Literary Express