The best books about false imprisonment

1 authors have picked their favorite books about false imprisonment and why they recommend each book.

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The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (translator),

Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo is the ultimate revenge book. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, is wrongfully thrown in prison for the rest of his life, and (spoiler alert) he beats the odds, and manages to escape. He then makes a completely new life for himself and exacts the most delicious revenge imaginable. I love a story where tremendous forces are working against the protagonist, and yet they continue to fight. You will be cheering for Edmond!


Who am I?

I worked in television for 25 years so when I wrote my novel, Death Warrant, about a reality TV show that kills people, I had a wealth of experience to draw from (not the killing part, but the TV part). And one of my experiences in TV was promoting reality TV programs on the stations I worked for. What did I come away with from that? That I really hate reality TV. Why? Because there is virtually nothing real about it. The shows are produced to within an inch of their lives. So, anything I could do that takes a swipe at reality TV, that satirizes it a bit, I was all in.

I wrote...

Death Warrant

By Bryan Johnston,

Book cover of Death Warrant

What is my book about?

Frankie Percival is cashing in her chips. To save her brother from financial ruin, Frankie, a stage performer who never made it big, agrees to be assassinated on the most popular television show on the planet: Death Warrant. But once she signs her life away, her memory is wiped clean of the agreement, leaving her with no idea she will soon be killed in spectacular fashion for global entertainment. After years of working in low-rent theaters, Frankie prepares for the biggest performance of her life that could catapult her to the top, if only she lives that long.

Punishing the Poor

By Loïc Wacquant,

Book cover of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

Wacquant was educated in France, under Pierre Bourdieu. He brings his French sensibilities and training to the United States, asking fundamental questions about the massive inequality there, how it came to be, and who it is serving. This is one of the books he has written in answer to those questions. I started teaching chapters from this book in a graduate seminar on Urban Inequality. No other scholar does such a precise job of tracing the connections between neoliberalism and inequality in the USA, which pushes poor Black men into prison and poor Black women into the welfare office. It is a sobering but powerful read that really helps you understand how neoliberalism is lived by those who suffer the most under its auspices.


Who am I?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!


I wrote...

Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

By Jacqueline Kennelly,

Book cover of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

What is my book about?

What are the ties that bind the 'good youth citizen' and the youth activist in the twenty-first century? Contemporary young people are encouraged—through education and other cultural sitesto 'save the world' via community projects that resemble activism, yet increasingly risk arrest for public acts of dissent. Through an ethnographic study of young people working on activist causes across the three largest urban centres in one of the wealthiest nations in the world (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canada), this book unpacks the effects of neoliberalism on democratic participation and explains what it means to be a certain kind of youth citizen in the twenty-first century. 

Hell Is a Very Small Place

By Jean Casella (editor), James Ridgeway (editor), Sarah Shourd (editor)

Book cover of Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement

The American carceral system is notorious for long, senseless solitary confinement sentences. While this is now public knowledge, we have actually heard very little from the people who have undergone such brutality. Hell Is A Very Small Place aims to give a platform to these people. This book is an invaluable collection of first-person accounts, composed by the people who lived this horror, many of them for unconscionably long periods. In their distinct voices, they articulate myriad ways time in solitary leads to the destruction of the human soul.  


Who am I?

As a writer and journalist in Iran, I knew many activists and journalists who spent time in solitary confinement. I noticed that this part of their prison experience was the hardest one for them to put to words, even those keen on sharing their experiences have a much easier time talking about the interrogation room but remain strangely reticent about the solitary cell. When I set out to write a novel about a bus driver who ends up in jail, I decided to dedicate several chapters of the book to his time in solitary confinement. That research sent me down the rabbit hole of interviewing former prisoners and reading widely about the solitary experience.


I wrote...

Then the Fish Swallowed Him

By Amir Ahmadi Arian,

Book cover of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

What is my book about?

Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, leads an unremarkable life. A solitary man since the unexpected deaths of his father and mother years ago, he is decidedly apolitical—even during the driver’s strike and its bloody end. But everyone has their breaking point, and Yunus has reached his.

Handcuffed and blindfolded, he is taken to the infamous Evin prison for political dissidents. Inside this stark, strangely ordered world, his fate becomes entwined with Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator. Yunus endures a mind-bending cycle of solitary confinement and interrogation. As Yunus struggles to hold on to his sanity and evade Saeed’s increasingly undeniable accusations, he must eventually make an impossible choice: continue fighting or submit to the system of lies upholding Iran’s power.

Lockdown (Escape from Furnace)

By Alexander Gordon Smith,

Book cover of Lockdown (Escape from Furnace)

Although this novel is not necessarily ‘apocalyptic,’ I couldn’t help but include it. Alexander Gordon Smith’s Lockdown is a high-stakes novel that follows Alex, a teenager who is wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to an underground prison. The Furnace Penitentiary is not a normal prison, but is a building where inhumane experiments take place. I’ve always been fascinated by characters who have to survive in an environment they cannot physically leave, and the Escape from Furnace series does this beautifully.


Who am I?

Apocalyptic novels have always been a favorite genre of mine. It’s interesting seeing the lengths that people will go through to survive when all factors are stacked against them. The list of novels below is some of the many great reads that opened my eyes to this genre. The characters in these novels are oftentimes faced with challenges that seem impossible to the reader but are left feeling so fulfilled after seeing a character complete the difficult tasks. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

Briskwood Blood Rain

By Christopher Joubert,

Book cover of Briskwood Blood Rain

What is my book about?

When Miles Parker walks into one of his final classes of high school, the only thing on his mind is how poorly he is about to do on a Literature quiz he didn’t study for. Then, his teacher dies – and vanishes – in front of him. He thinks his day can’t get any stranger. He’s wrong. 

When severe weather roars into the small city of Briskwood and school is canceled for the rest of the day, Miles thinks nothing of it. Then, the rain suddenly turns red and mutates people into yellow-eyed, spike-covered creatures, hell-bent on terrorizing anything that moves. With the blood rain cutting off access to many necessary resources, Miles must use his limited supplies to fight an enemy that is much stronger than he is. 

A Sliver of Light

By Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal, Sarah Shourd

Book cover of A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran

Those interested in the never-ending drama of US-Iranian relations since 1979 probably remember the affair of the mountain climbers. Three Americans, hiking the mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, mistakenly crossed the border into Iran. They were taken to Evin prison in Tehran, where they were imprisoned for two years, a good part of which they spent in solitary confinement as Iran and the US used them as pawns in their complicated dance of diplomacy. After their release, the hikers wrote a memoir together. This is one of the best accounts of solitary confinement in Evin available in English.


Who am I?

As a writer and journalist in Iran, I knew many activists and journalists who spent time in solitary confinement. I noticed that this part of their prison experience was the hardest one for them to put to words, even those keen on sharing their experiences have a much easier time talking about the interrogation room but remain strangely reticent about the solitary cell. When I set out to write a novel about a bus driver who ends up in jail, I decided to dedicate several chapters of the book to his time in solitary confinement. That research sent me down the rabbit hole of interviewing former prisoners and reading widely about the solitary experience.


I wrote...

Then the Fish Swallowed Him

By Amir Ahmadi Arian,

Book cover of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

What is my book about?

Yunus Turabi, a bus driver in Tehran, leads an unremarkable life. A solitary man since the unexpected deaths of his father and mother years ago, he is decidedly apolitical—even during the driver’s strike and its bloody end. But everyone has their breaking point, and Yunus has reached his.

Handcuffed and blindfolded, he is taken to the infamous Evin prison for political dissidents. Inside this stark, strangely ordered world, his fate becomes entwined with Hajj Saeed, his personal interrogator. Yunus endures a mind-bending cycle of solitary confinement and interrogation. As Yunus struggles to hold on to his sanity and evade Saeed’s increasingly undeniable accusations, he must eventually make an impossible choice: continue fighting or submit to the system of lies upholding Iran’s power.

City of Inmates

By Kelly Lytle Hernández,

Book cover of City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965

This book has hugely influenced my thinking on US racism, imprisonment, and immigration, especially my second book. By studying a long history of incarceration in Los Angeles, Lytle Hernandez demonstrates how “mass incarceration is mass elimination.” This argument was a revelation that opened new ways for me to see the connections among different people swept away into cages. Like Dunbar-Ortiz, she reveals how settler colonialism connects working-class white, Black, Indigenous, Chinese, and Mexican people targeted for arrest, imprisonment, and removal. Crucially, she reads “rebel archives” of those people who resisted their subjugation and fought for justice, showing how they never relinquished themselves to racist incarceration. 


Who am I?

I’m an awkward academic who thinks, writes, and teaches about US immigration and imprisonment regimes and their growth out of racism, imperialism, and nationalism. I’m strongly motivated by things that I hate. I want to understand how and why we are facing such catastrophic problems, so that we can figure out how to undo them. My work is partly motivated by my personal history as the daughter of immigrants who moved to support their families and survive in the aftermath of war. As a privileged person in the US, I'm not directly affected by the state violence I study. I also know that we're not going to have a future unless we get there together. 


I wrote...

Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the Twenty-First Century

By A. Naomi Paik,

Book cover of Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding U.S. Immigration for the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary examines the deep roots leading to three executive orders that have defined the US approach to immigrants—the Muslim Ban, the border wall, and ICE raids. In this essential primer on how we got here, A. Naomi Paik reveals that the ascendancy of xenophobic, racist, ableist, patriarchal power is no aberration of the Trump regime, but the consequence of two centuries of U.S. political, economic, and social culture. She deftly demonstrates that attacks against migrants are tightly bound to assaults against women, people of color, workers, ill and disabled people, and queer and gender nonconforming people. Against this history of barriers and assaults, Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary mounts a rallying cry for a broad-based, abolitionist sanctuary movement for all.

The Library at Mount Char

By Scott Hawkins,

Book cover of The Library at Mount Char

This is one of my favorite dark fantasy books. This book is filled with acolytes that are imbued with the power of great deities doing the bidding of a cruel godlike being. It takes some time to unravel the truth in this book simply because the kids we follow don’t understand it themselves. I am still in awe of this beautiful, complex storyline. This is a book that isn’t talked about enough. Once you get to the talking lions, you start to understand how it all fits together like a thousand-piece puzzle. Once you finish it, you’ll be begging for a sequel just like me.


Who am I?

I love reading about monsters as much as I love writing about them. Unfortunately, it also means I’m super picky about the dark fantasy I read. These authors don’t disappoint. Dark fantasy is a genre that I continue to return to, whether it’s aimed at teens or adults. I’ve had to deal with many monsters in my life and I understand that they can take many shapes and forms. These books are some of the very best I’ve read and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have. 


I wrote...

The Seeking

By Marlena Frank,

Book cover of The Seeking

What is my book about?

Each Seeking, the magic that protects the town of Carra must be renewed, which means the children of the Exalted Family must go into hiding. Whether through disguise or bribe, through trusted friends or perfect hiding places, every child of the Priest family must avoid capture for the full day of The Seeking.

When things go wrong with the renewal, it’s up to seventeen-year-old Dahlia, the middle child of the Priest family, and her girlfriend, Bisa, to escape Carra and find the magical beings responsible for the protection. They must learn who would require such a cruel game every year and if the protection of the Gray People is really worth such a price. What they will discover is far worse.

The Son

By Jo Nesbo,

Book cover of The Son

This novel, translated from Norwegian, features a protagonist who is like a junkie-Christ, and an antagonist who makes Satan look like a kind old man. The atmosphere is as dark as I imagine an Oslo winter would be; the story, full of fascinating characters who propel the plot through twists and turns that kept me guessing and gasping. In one of the first, the junkie-Christ discovers that his father, a once-revered police officer, did not commit suicide as everyone believes, but was murdered. When junkie-Christ kicks heroin, snuffs his nimbus of sweetness and light, and sets out to avenge his father, the book, for me, was un-put-downable.


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind. The deeper I spelunked into that cave, the deeper into the dark I wanted to go. It’s not surprising that I became a writer obsessed with the unconscious, a clinical psychotherapist, and now a Professor of English. Before that, I was a professional rock singer/ guitarist, which also gained me entry into parts of life that most people don’t see. I tell my students, “I read because one life isn’t enough.” The books I’m recommending gave me a chance to enter other lives, and to inhabit minds—some strange and twisted, all astonishing—that I could not have accessed on my own.


I wrote...

Ursula Lake

By Charles Harper Webb,

Book cover of Ursula Lake

What is my book about?

Former best friends Scott and Errol meet unexpectedly at Oso Lake, a remote Canadian fly-fishing paradise where, five years before, fresh out of college, they had the time of their lives. Their situations have changed, their high hopes quashed by workaday realities and, in Errol’s case, marriage to Claire, who has come with him, trying to stave off divorce.

But Oso Lake has changed. The fall before, a woman’s severed head was left in a campfire pit. The shadow cast by her murder is darkened further by a fire-scarred white truck driver who claims to be a long-dead Native shaman, and plans to eradicate all of western civilization. The beauty of the wilderness becomes more threatening and perverse. But the worst danger the vacationers face may be themselves.

The Prisoner in His Palace

By Will Bardenwerper,

Book cover of The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid

Saddam Hussein – the dictator of Iraq – was the West’s defining turn-of-the-century uber-villain, an image which this book overturns on a deeply personal level. While Saddam is shown to be a monster (he casually laments how his sadistic sons took it a bit far), he nonetheless somehow wins the compassion of his American captors who fall to blubbering pieces as he proceeds to the gallows.


Who am I?

“The truth is exactly the opposite of the words” - I just noticed on my door, I still have an old sticker that bears those words.  I guess, I’ve tended to find that common-sense assumptions about major things – politics, religion, war, love, good and evil, relationships, and so on – are simply not accurate and more the results of lazy thinking, ignorance, politics, or ideology. I did a PhD in propaganda, which led me to an eclectic freelance career investigating conspiracy theories, making documentaries, writing novels, doing stand-up comedy, and suchlike – so I have a background in engaging big and crazy ideas.


I wrote...

Union Jackboot: What Your Media and Professors Don't Tell You about British Foreign Policy

By Tj Coles, Matthew Alford,

Book cover of Union Jackboot: What Your Media and Professors Don't Tell You about British Foreign Policy

What is my book about?

In this controversial new book, Matt Alford (Reel Power) asks T.J. Coles (Britain’s Secret Wars) a series of penetrating questions about Britain’s global role in the age of Russia, Brexit, and Trump. How much influence does Britain really have in the world? Why do we sell arms to everyone under the sun? Why are we sponsoring genocide in Burma?

Coles drops one truth bomb after another on a range of topics, including ‘free trade’, modern slavery, the benefits system, Jeremy Corbyn, anti-Semitism, and the global reptilian conspiracy (which Coles audaciously denies!). Backed-up with over 200 scholarly footnotes, Coles applies razor-sharp logic to some of the most pressing questions of our times: how to spot propaganda, how to dissect it, and where to find truth in the era of fake news and top-down disinformation.

An American Marriage

By Tayari Jones,

Book cover of An American Marriage

I feel the ethos of this book in my very marrow. It’s basically like, “La la-la, I’m a Black person just living my life, trying to enjoy my marriage, start a family, generally be human, but then BAM! Some seriously unjust and disruptive shit totally blindsides me, derails my entire existence, and I just have to figure out how to get back to feeling human again.” After this pandemic, I think everyone can probably relate to this to some degree. (Huh. Covid: The Great Equalizer.)


Who am I?

As a queer, Black woman who, as a child, was abused, abandoned at age 3, and then raised in poverty, I have had maybe more than my fair share of obstacles to overcome. I don’t know what ingredient kept me from becoming a total dumpster fire of an adult, but if I could figure it out, I would give everybody the recipe to that secret sauce. In the meantime, I read books about other such folks and recommend them to other humans looking for inspiration to keep going in tough times. 


I wrote...

Surely Goodness & Mercy

By Chisa Hutchinson,

Book cover of Surely Goodness & Mercy

What is my book about?

In Surely Goodness & Mercy, an odd-ball middle-schooler and a cantankerous lunch lady at a craptacular public school form an unlikely friendship and become heroes in the process. It’s a story that shows us how rewarding it can be to help others, even when — maybe even especially when — we’re feeling helpless ourselves.

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