Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

To view this video download Flash Player


Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering
Sell Us Your Item
For a $12.00 Gift Card
Trade in
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Start reading Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years [Paperback]

Michael Esslinger
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)

List Price: $26.99
Price: $25.64 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
You Save: $1.35 (5%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
Only 7 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.
Want it Monday, July 14? Choose One-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
Free Two-Day Shipping for College Students with Amazon Student


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition $9.99  
Paperback $25.64  

Book Description

July 24, 2011 0970461402 978-0970461407 8th

Alcatraz - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years is a comprehensive reference with hundreds of pages of historic photographs, documents, and information that breaks away from traditional tourist style books. This book is the result of years of intensive research, and navigates the Island's history through rarely seen documents, interviews, and historic photographs.

Historian Michael Esslinger thoroughly details the prominent events, inmates, and life inside the most infamous prison in American History. His research included hundreds of hours examining actual Alcatraz inmate files (including rare original documents from Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and over a hundred others) exploring the prison grounds from the rooftop to the waterfront to help retrace events, escape routes, in addition to conducting various interviews with former inmates & guards. His study has resulted in detailed accounts of both the 1946 & 1962 Escape attempts. A definitive account of the 1962 escape of Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers provides rare insight extracted through photos, and over 1,700 pages of FBI investigative notes.

Detailed narratives of Alcatraz's most notable inmates who include Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Morris, the Anglin Brothers, Doc Barker, Joe Cretzer, Bernard Coy, Miran Thompson, Sam Shockley, and many-many others. Alcatraz Federal Prison - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years, is a comprehensive reference on the history of Alcatraz and contains one of the most comprehensive archives of inmate and prison life photographs (nearly 1,000) from 1934-1963.

Frequently Bought Together

Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years + Exploring Alcatraz + History of Alcatraz Island, 1853-2008 (Images of America: California)
Price for all three: $46.83

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews


"... a greater trove of historical riches and human drama than screenwriters could imagine."
-- Jeanne Cooper, San Francisco Chronicle

"Through meticulous research, he has captured the experience of Alcatraz with an authentic voice."
-- From the foreword by former Alcatraz Inmate Darwin E. Coon.

"A detailed, in-depth, definitive, informative, and superbly presented account of an infamous institution of American history."
-- Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review, KNLS Bookwatch

"This is a serious book, a comprehensive history of the island during its three decades as a federal penitentiary. At 451 oversized pages, including more than 1,000 pictures, it also represents a mammoth research undertaking... simply a terrific book, and an even better reference tool."
-- Sue Fishkoff, Coast Weekly

About the Author

Michael Esslinger is a historical researcher and best-selling author whose acclaimed work has appeared in numerous books, film and television documentaries, including segments on the Discovery, National Geographic and History Channels.

His work spans entertainment, science, politics and historical subjects. From Space to Alcatraz, he has interviewed icons that have shaped world history, and continues to write on subjects that explore a vast spectrum of the human experience. He resides in California.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 451 pages
  • Publisher: Ocean View Publishing; 8th edition (July 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970461402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970461407
  • Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 8.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Esslinger is a historical researcher and best-selling author whose acclaimed work has appeared in numerous books, film and television documentaries, including segments on the Discovery, National Geographic and History Channels. His work spans entertainment, science, politics and historical subjects.

From the elusive crew of Apollo 11, the first men to walk on the moon, to inmates of Alcatraz; he has interviewed icons and other figures that have shaped history and continues to write on subjects that explore a vast spectrum of the human experience.

His books ALCATRAZ - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years and Letters from Alcatraz continue as best-selling references chronicling the island's rich historical past. He is the co-author of the classic film memoir: I WANT IT NOW! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a magical memoir penned by Julie Dawn Cole, the original Veruca Salt in the classic motion picture with Gene Wilder.

Current projects include a comprehensive history on the Apollo Program based on interviews that include Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins documenting mankind's epic journey to the moon. He is also engaged in several Alcatraz related projects. They include: Whitey Bulger, The Alcatraz Interviews (a volume of interviews conducted by the author); Al Capone - the King of Alcatraz, a historical account of Capone's years on the Rock, and a new account of the 1962 Frank Morris and Anglin Brothers Alcatraz escape entitled, Alcatraz Escape: The Untold Story of the Greatest Prison Escape in American History.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive History of the Rock June 10, 2003
This is a phenomenal book. I absolutely loved it. Esslinger has accomplished something near impossible in his Definitive History of Alcatraz Island. He provides a very readable narrative that blends a journalistic balance along with a skilled historian's ability to bring a rich depth into this history. This book is an important work to help further unveil the many story legends of the former prison. It has a little something for every reader's interest. The Author has successfully incorporated the story of the prison while interlacing inmate biographies into the historical context of the era.
This book is an essential reference for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating history. It's a worthy addition to any home history library!
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly the definitive work August 11, 2003
By Jon
After having read close to 20 books on Alcatraz (I'm hoplessly fascinated by the island's story ever since my first visit there as an 11-year old) I picked this book up with the hope that it would be, as it claims to be, the definitive work.
It is. With the help of close to 1.000 photographs Esslinger effortlessly tells the story from beginning to end without writing clichés about the "Devil's Rock" or misguided rumors of guard brutality. Fascinating and vital reading.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oustanding exhaustive research! December 23, 2007
Michael Esslinger has put years of hard work in this book and it shows!
Pouring over thousands and thousands of files, he has condensed it into this massive brick of a book ,with hundreds of photos and files that quench the thirst of Alcatraz buffs young and old. I noticed two negative reviews which have no merit! One reviewer looks like they're the one who had the agenda by only having one review, which was a negative one against this fine book. For the other, Of course there is mention of the horrors in the book. It was always well documented that it wasn't a pleasant experience to be in Alcatraz. Just look at the rules and regulations!! Don't forget, it was supposed to be a tough prison of the damned and not Disneyland!!

Excellent! It certainly helped me in my research for my webpage on Alcatraz.

Mario Gomes, founder of
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Michael Esslinger brilliantly weaves first-hand accounts, testimony and exhaustive research in this incredible book about the Real Alcatraz. The famous escape attempts, celebrated felons and routine of the Rock are explored in thorough insight and detail from those who knew the prison best. After reading this book, one is amazed by the different perceptions and awareness created from this masterpiece. I will never look at the Rock again when I visit next, and neither will you.
Esslinger shines while diaplaying the vivid detail and stories of those who lived on the Rock from its days as a military prison to its closure. A must read for anyone wanting to know about the real Alcatraz, not what has been fabricated and sensationalized in movies or the media.
A Sensational and Incredible read that you must own today!!!
Matt Edwards
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book, almost. November 18, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I would like to have had a map of the entire layout of the island as it was originally and as it has changed through the years so as to get a better feeling of what-was-where-when, as it were. Page 388 has a pair of photos labeled as separate cell shots of two of the players in the most famous escape attempt portrayed by Clint Eastwood in "Escape From Alcatraz", but they are clearly two different shots of the same cell.

THAT is about all I can say against this book!

Esslinger does an excellent job amassing facts and staying away from speculation. This is no "Ghosts of Alcatraz", which I was unfortunate enough to buy without reading much of it because it was the only Alcatraz book at Border's that day. No ghost stories, no silly Ripley's 'Believe It Or Not' references to spiritual sightings or sounds. Just plain facts, presented in a concise, readable manner. There are enough photographs to give much insight into the areas one might never see otherwise.

The book is massive at 451 pages, and gives all the details on the various breakout attempts. It has photos or scanned documents on virtually every page. The reader gets more than just information from Esslinger's copy, they walk away with a feel for the convict who is shown as he aged, often at an advanced rate due to prison life, in photos from different years. They see history as it happened with shots of island families being evacuated during hostile actions at the prison. They feel, through precise descriptions, the biting cold and isolation of the guards on the towers and come to know, by seeing the handwriting of officers and wardens on original documents.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wishing to delve deeper into Alcatraz and it's chilling past. As far as I know, there is no better book for the task. It would have been nice to see the aforementioned items included, but it would not stop me from buying this book now, and should not stop you.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lopsided story telling and horrible editing December 23, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a fan of criminal justice studies, the material itself was fascinating. The pictures are well done with the captions and the amount of historical value is very well tied together. It is obvious the amount of pain that the author went through to compile the amount of information in this book......but that's all. There were several sections where the writing was sloppy (1st draft sloppy), and the grammatical editing was atrocious. Many of the same sentences and thoughts were merely paragraphs apart, as if the author couldn't decide where in the chapter the material should have been located. I started to mark all of the editorial errors, but after the first few chapters, decided that I couldn't read the book for enjoyment because of all the "editing" that I was doing.

Again, the facts are presented, and where the facts couldn't be verified as to which story was accurate, the author was careful to make such annotations. This however did not stop the book from being very lopsided in its view. While we all understand that criminals (especially in that era) were not all "angels," neither were the guards and/or administration staff. The author does a great job, of placing the factually provided letters from the various staff members throughout the book; however, those letters are written more like political speeches moving throughout the government. I am not naïve enough to believe that ethical lines were not crossed by the guards, beatings of prisoners were never conducted, and punishments were not so severe that inmates complained of it. Again, the book is a good compilation of the available documented facts; however, the story is very lopsided as if the staff members were always professional robots, never did anything that crossed any lines and were always completely innocent in everything they did.

For a book to be labeled "A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years," you might add, "from the view of the government."
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written & informative
Informative and well written. Maybe a little dry but full of interesting facts on Alcatraz.
Published 7 days ago by Dave Maher
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rock
Very good historical read about the history of "The Rock" and its many clients. If you've ever been it's a must read.
Published 10 days ago by twright4
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read.
Great read. Sorry I didn't read it before I visited Alcatraz. Makes me want to go back and see it again.
Published 12 days ago by Peter de Plater
4.0 out of 5 stars Alcatraz- great story!
I really enjoyed this book- a little dry in spots, but otherwise a good read! I liked the well researched story of Alcatraz.
Published 1 month ago by L. A. Hummer
4.0 out of 5 stars Alcatraz .....It's moe than worth a tour.......
A thorough coverage of all aspects of the island prison.

This history covers the daily routine of the inmates and guards. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Warren Dunn
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book ever about the Rock
Learned more about the Rock from this book than anything previously. Love the attention to detail and information like the prisoner's log sheets.
Published 1 month ago by bascar
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
I love reading about Alcatraz. I have read several books and this by far is a huge insider of what went on behind those walls. Very interesting.
Published 2 months ago by Diane
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing historical story
A history of an institution of historical significance, the person's most notable residents, and the people that watched over them. Read more
Published 2 months ago by JEBoone
3.0 out of 5 stars So
it was Bella wordy but super interesting I loved it. I want to go visit. I thoroughly enjoyed all the detail
Published 2 months ago by jillafett
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed reading this book.
Not normally a huge fan of history books like this, but this one caught my eye. Well researched and written, with documentation and photographs on most of the stories. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
Search Customer Reviews
Search these reviews only

Books on Related Topics (learn more)

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?


There are no discussions about this product yet.
Be the first to discuss this product with the community.
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Look for Similar Items by Category