From Publishers Weekly
In this sociological history of American penology, historian Cox describes the Big House era when state and federal prisons were sprawling structures that housed thousands of convicts. Simultaneously fearsome and awe inspiring, these dark behemoths became archetypal in the American imagination, and Cox recreates the world-within-a-world of these institutions by addressing the reader directly, marching him through the prison gates, shaving off his hair, dressing him in striped garb, locking him in a spare cell and noisily regimenting him for work, meals and recreation. Although some large prisons remain today (notably California's San Quentin), the Big House era ended with the closing of Alcatraz and in the face of critiques from the prisoner rights movement of the 1960s. Emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment, prisons became smaller, with hardened criminals separated from those guilty of less serious offenses. Although it cites criminology literature extensively, this detailed and vivid historical study is for the nonspecialist and provides a valuable look at the untold stories of life, sexuality, friendship and punishment in an overlooked corner—and microcosm—of American society. (Nov.)
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"A first-rate piece of writing...captures and renders novel and interesting a remarkable nineteenth century creation that lingers on in the twenty-first."--Andrew Scull, author of Madhouse
“Professor Cox has brought prison studies into mainstream intellectual discourse, something Foucault tried to do but failed.”–Nathan Kantrowitz, author of Close Control: Managing a Maximum Security Prison
"Short and very well written, The Big House
captures beautifully the complexities, dilemmas, horrors and permanent fascination of prison life. It is humane without sentimentality and realistic without cynicism."–Theodore Dalrymple, author of Life at the Bottom