The best books about prisoners

Who picked these books? Meet our 121 experts.

121 authors created a book list connected to prisoners, and here are their favorite prisoner books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

What type of prisoner book?



By Nikolaus Wachsmann,

Book cover of KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Deborah Hopkinson Author Of We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance

From the list on World War II in Europe.

Who am I?

The books I’ve recommended here range from scholarship, young adult historical fiction, literary fiction, and a good spy mystery—all set in World War II. I’ve read widely in the field since I’ve written several nonfiction books for young readers and teens about World War II. Along with We Must Not Forget, these include Courage & Defiance, about the Danish resistance, Dive!, about the submarine war in the Pacific, D-Day: The World War II Invasion that Changed History, and We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. I’m currently working on a book about a 1945 POW rescue in the Philippines.

Deborah's book list on World War II in Europe

Discover why each book is one of Deborah's favorite books.

Why did Deborah love this book?

To ensure we’ll never repeat the Holocaust, we must understand it. One of the most difficult books you may ever read, KL is a comprehensive and impressive history of the Nazis’ camp system. The New York Times called this nearly 900-page work by Nikolaus Wachsmann, a history professor at London University, a work of “prodigious scholarship.”

Time and again, when researching my own book for young readers, I turned to Wachsmann for nuanced detail, impeccable research, and a better understanding of some of the “choiceless choices” faced by Jewish men, women, and children. Not for the faint of heart, but a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives.

By Nikolaus Wachsmann,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked KL as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize and the Wolfson History Prize

In March of 1933, a disused factory surrounded by barbed wire held 223 prisoners in the town of Dachau. By the end of 1945, the SS concentration camp system had become an overwhelming landscape of terror. Twenty-two large camps and over one thousand satellite camps throughout Germany and Europe were at the heart of the Nazi campaign of repression and intimidation. The importance of the camps in terms of Nazi history and our modern world cannot be questioned.

Dr Nikolaus Wachsmann is the first historian to write…

Burn For Me

By Cynthia Eden,

Book cover of Burn For Me: Phoenix Fire #1

Catherine Edward Author Of Lycan's Blood Queen

From the list on fantasy/shifter romance to make your heart flutter.

Who am I?

I’m a paranormal romance and fantasy author who fell in love with fantasy as a young girl. My journey as a reader started when I was four, but what changed me entirely was Russian Tales woven with magic. I’m passionate about Lycans, Werewolves, Witches, Vampires, and everything that’s magical. I like to write sizzling tales of love and betrayal.

Catherine's book list on fantasy/shifter romance to make your heart flutter

Discover why each book is one of Catherine's favorite books.

Why did Catherine love this book?

I haven’t read many Phoenix shifter books, but this book is just so good. As you can see I like to read different books containing all sorts of shifters and tried to include one from each type I enjoyed so much. Subject Thirteen aka Cain O’Connor is locked in a secret lab and is tortured until he is freed by Eva Bradley. With bad guys on pursuit, the couple must take refuge and while on the run they uncover several secrets and face danger head on. This entire series will keep the readers on their toes because of the suspense and mystery element. 

By Cynthia Eden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Burn For Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eve Bradley was undercover looking for a story, not a cause. But something about the man they called Subject 13 got her involved. The scientists said he was a devil, and they had a decent case: Terrifying power. A bad attitude. And looks that could lead anyone to sin....

Cain O'Connor knows the minute he catches her candy scent that Eve could drive him wild. But she's a threat - in a way no one has been for him in years. She's safer away from him, too. But with a powerful conspiracy determined to shut Eve up for good, there's…

Silent Cells

By Anthony Ryan Hatch,

Book cover of Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America

Rob Wipond Author Of Your Consent Is Not Required: The Rise in Psychiatric Detentions, Forced Treatment, and Abusive Guardianships

From the list on involuntary commitment and psychiatric treatment.

Who am I?

My father, a college professor, sought mental health help during a difficult period—and got forcibly electroshocked. I later started doing journalism, investigating community issues such as poverty, government and business, racial conflicts, policing, and protests—wherever I looked, I’d find sources who’d been subjected to psychiatric detentions. I started to see that a far greater diversity of people were being affected than we normally realize or talk about. Over the ensuing years, I interviewed hundreds of people about their experiences of forced psychiatric interventions, and became determined to shine a brighter public light on mental health law powers. My articles have been nominated for seventeen magazine and journalism awards. 

Rob's book list on involuntary commitment and psychiatric treatment

Discover why each book is one of Rob's favorite books.

Why did Rob love this book?

Hatch did stellar research to expose how coercive psychiatric treatment—especially tranquilization with heavy antipsychotics—is spreading into nursing homes, child foster care and juvenile facilities, immigration centers, and prisons.

Antipsychotics are becoming a ‘go-to’ approach for institutional management of large populations, especially targeting people of color.

Hatch’s work also draws attention to a vital, related issue: Abundant research shows that involuntary treatment is driven by our culture’s dominant prejudices: classism, racism, sexism, sanism, etc. Predictably then, public discussions of involuntary treatment routinely lack, and desperately need, a greater diversity of voices.

So, while highlighting the work of the Black scholar Hatch, I want to also mention several recent anthologies that bring forth a fantastic diversity of voices and perspectives on contempory psychiatric care, forced treatment, and alternatives: Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies; Disability Incarcerated: Imprisonment and Disability in the United States and Canada, and We've…

By Anthony Ryan Hatch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Silent Cells as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A critical investigation into the use of psychotropic drugs to pacify and control inmates and other captives in the vast U.S. prison, military, and welfare systems

For at least four decades, U.S. prisons and jails have aggressively turned to psychotropic drugs-antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedatives, and tranquilizers-to silence inmates, whether or not they have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. In Silent Cells, Anthony Ryan Hatch demonstrates that the pervasive use of psychotropic drugs has not only defined and enabled mass incarceration but has also become central to other forms of captivity, including foster homes, military and immigrant detention centers, and nursing homes.…

True Story

By Michael Finkel,

Book cover of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

J.T. Hunter Author Of Devil in the Darkness: The True Story of Serial Killer Israel Keyes

From the list on true crime and the dark side of human nature.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the dark side of human nature and the socio-psychological aspects of criminal behavior, especially those of serial killers, and my legal training and experience afforded me apt tools for exploring and writing about true crime. I have been interviewed and appeared on a wide range of podcasts, radio, and TV shows about true crime for nearly a decade.

J.T.'s book list on true crime and the dark side of human nature

Discover why each book is one of J.T.'s favorite books.

Why did J.T. love this book?

This book explores the relationship between writer and subject and provides a lesson on the lengths one should go in exercising one’s craft. An ironic twist comes in the form of Finkel himself being a victim of a crime, which gives rise to the thrust of this story. As a fan of memoirs and true crime, this book kept my interest all of the way through.

By Michael Finkel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked True Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michael Finkel was a top New York Times Magazine journalist publicly fired and disgraced for making up a composite character for a big investigative news piece about Africa. This book is about how this brilliant, high achieving journalist found himself at that point in his life. But in parallel it's also about Christian Longo, a man accused of the multiple murder of his own wife and three children.

After the deaths, Longo fled to Mexico, where he passed himself off as Michael Finkel, New York Times journalist. These two weird stories come together as Finkel in turn becomes fascinated (perhaps…

The Scar

By China Miéville,

Book cover of The Scar

Ruth Fox Author Of New Eden

From the list on fantasy that break the pattern.

Who am I?

I grew up reading books, and when I was around 10 years old I discovered science fiction and fantasy. What hooked me about these genres was the imagination and skill that would go into building an entire world which only exists between the covers of that book. But I also found that there was an intense enjoyment to be had from books that sat within those categories, but which were more unusual; books that push the boundaries of their genre or introduce something new.

Ruth's book list on fantasy that break the pattern

Discover why each book is one of Ruth's favorite books.

Why did Ruth love this book?

The Scar was a book that I picked up randomly when I was looking, quite literally, for the thickest fantasy or sci-fi book on the shelf.

I found that on top of being nice and long, it is also a beautiful mix of science-fiction, speculation, and fantasy. I hadn’t yet read Perdido Street Station, which is the first in the series, but that didn’t seem important as the story picks up a new thread in this uncanny world. 

Bellis Coldwine is one of the travelers aboard a sailing vessel heading for a new colony. The vessel is seized by pirates and the people aboard are captured, taken to Armada, a massive floating city. There, Bellis must uncover Armada’s purpose and plans.

I found the world created in this book so rich and fulfilling, and I couldn’t wait to turn the pages and learn more.

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Scar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A human cargo bound for servitude in exile... A pirate city hauled across the oceans... A hidden miracle about be revealed... This is the story of a prisoner's journey. The search for the island of a forgotten people, for the most astonishing beast in the seas, and ultimately for a fabled place - a massive wound in reality, a source of unthinkable power and danger.From the author of Perdido Street Station, another colossal fantasy of incredible diversity and spellbinding imagination, which was acclaimed in The Times Literary Supplement as: 'An astonishing novel, guaranteed to astound and enthral the most jaded…

Saturday at M.I.9

By Airey Neave,

Book cover of Saturday at M.I.9: The Classic Account of the WW2 Allied Escape Organisation

Peter Dixon Author Of Return to Vienna: The Special Operations Executive and the Rebirth of Austria

From the list on living undercover in constant danger during WW2.

Who am I?

Hodder and IVP had already published two of my earlier books—during my three decades as a Royal Air Force pilot and another one leading a conflict resolution NGO—when my journey as a WW2 author began. It all started with my wife's book about her German mother and British Intelligence Corps father (The Bride's Trunk). That got me interested in the links between 'the Corps' and the Special Operations Executive. Three SOE books later, I’m following the organisation into Austria. I've barely scratched the surface of undercover operations and I’m always finding new niches to discover.

Peter's book list on living undercover in constant danger during WW2

Discover why each book is one of Peter's favorite books.

Why did Peter love this book?

I am sure that the authenticity of someone who has ‘been there and done it’ is unchallengeable. Airey Neave, who tragically died in 1979 at the hands of the Irish National Liberation Army, was one such. After successfully escaping from the PoW camp at Colditz, he joined MI9, the War Office section that supported escaping PoWs and downed aircrew. This strikes a chord with me as a former pilot. In this book, he tells the stories of French men and women of all ages and backgrounds, who, at great personal danger, formed the backbone of secret escape lines. The narrative is not over-dramatised and the matter-of-fact style is one I respect, but the courage of those who harboured escapees or acted as couriers comes through clearly. 

By Airey Neave,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saturday at M.I.9 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Saturday at M.I.9 is the inside story of the underground escape lines in occupied North-West Europe which brought back to Britain over 4,000 Allied servicemen during World War Two.Airey Neave, who in the last two years of the war was the chief organiser at M.I.9 gives his own unique account. He describes how the escape lines began in the first dark days of German occupation and how, until the end of the war, thousands of ordinary men and women made their own contribution to the Allied victory by hiding and feeding men and guiding them to safety.There isn't a page…

Half Bad

By Sally Green,

Book cover of Half Bad

Emily Rooke Author Of The Dying Light

From the list on LGBTQ+ found family guaranteed to break your heart.

Who am I?

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I endured many years with my voice stolen. Growing up, books offered a sanctuary from a world of cruelty and violence. Yet I never saw myself in fiction—not only as a young person battling to survive, but as a vulnerable teen questioning their sexuality. Now, I’m determined to support fellow survivors. 100% of the proceeds of my books are donated to charities supporting sexual abuse survivors, particularly victims of child trafficking. Living with CPTSD means I have a particular interest in trauma narratives, and an intense desire to do justice to abuse survivors in fiction. No one should feel alone or unseen.

Emily's book list on LGBTQ+ found family guaranteed to break your heart

Discover why each book is one of Emily's favorite books.

Why did Emily love this book?

Caged and shackled, Nathan endures endless torments at the hands of his captor. His crime? Being born a ‘Half Code’ – half White witch, half Black witch – and son of their hidden world’s most infamous villain. Adapted on Netflix as The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, Half Bad thrives on the intense, gritty voice of its protagonist. Captured by Nathan’s plight, his pain and rage seared my heart as, chapter by chapter, I longed for his escape and for him to find the peace and freedom he so deserved. Be warned, this is a book that will get under your skin. Just thinking about Nathan’s struggle for survival is enough to make my stomach churn, which I think speaks volumes about the power of this brutal story.  

By Sally Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Half Bad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiration for the Netflix series The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself

“An enthralling fantasy in the Harry Potter tradition.”—Time magazine

“A bewitching new thriller.”—The Wall Street Journal

In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live alongside humans, one sixteen-year-old boy is trapped between the two sides. Nathan's father is the world’s most powerful and cruel witch, and his mother is dead. Both groups of witches see Nathan as their greatest threat—or their greatest weapon. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, he must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three…

Prison by Any Other Name

By Maya Schenwar, Victoria Law,

Book cover of Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms

James Kilgore Author Of Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time

From the list on mass incarceration.

Who am I?

I've been a social justice activist all my life. In my younger years, I turned to violence to bring about liberation. That landed me a federal arrest warrant which I avoided for 27 years by living as a fugitive. I spent most of that time in southern Africa, joining freedom movements against apartheid and colonialism. Arrested and extradited to the U.S. in 2002 I spent 6 1/2 years in California prisons while observing the impact of mass incarceration. I vowed to direct my energy to end mass incarceration through grassroots organizing. Since then I've been a writer, researcher, and activist in my local community of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois as well as being partner and father to my two sons.

James' book list on mass incarceration

Discover why each book is one of James' favorite books.

Why did James love this book?

As public awareness of mass incarceration has grown, reformers, and even law enforcement, have attempted to build alternatives, policies, and institutions they argue are alternatives to prisons and jails. These alternatives include policies like electronic monitoring, drug courts, halfway houses, lockup mental health facilities, and court supervision. In this book, Law and Schenwar systematically demolish the notion that such initiatives do anything more than widen the net of incarceration. In their view, these “alternatives” create programs and institutions based on the notion that altering the form or style of punishment will eliminate mass incarceration. Instead, they argue this requires the elimination of the paradigm of punishment and the establishment of programs outside the criminal legal system that provide freedom and opportunities for targeted populations. 

By Maya Schenwar, Victoria Law,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prison by Any Other Name as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new afterword from the authors, the critically praised indictment of widely embraced "alternatives to incarceration"

"But what does it mean-really-to celebrate reforms that convert your home into your prison?" -Michelle Alexander, from the foreword

Electronic monitoring. Locked-down drug treatment centers. House arrest. Mandated psychiatric treatment. Data driven surveillance. Extended probation. These are some of the key alternatives held up as cost effective substitutes for jails and prisons. But in a searing, "cogent critique" (Library Journal), Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law reveal that many of these so-called reforms actually weave in new strands of punishment and control, bringing new…

Shame and the Captives

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of Shame and the Captives

Michael J. Murphy Author Of Beneath the Willow

From the list on fiction to immerse yourself in a historical narrative.

Who am I?

My passion for historical fiction writing stems from a lifelong interest in history and a love for creating stories that have rich characters, with deep and meaningful personalities. My interest in history led me to study the subject at university, which has worked hand-in-hand with the pleasure I get from writing. Researching stories is another aspect that I enjoy, and it has seen me travel to destinations all over the world, where I have made some wonderful friendships.

Michael's book list on fiction to immerse yourself in a historical narrative

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

Shame and the Captives is by the award-winning Tom Keneally.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Tom, and the edition that I have is signed by him. The novel is set in World War Two and based on the escape of Japanese prisoners of war at Cowra, Australia. The story moves between the camp itself and residents of the town, which gives the narrative a strong base for dramatic tension.

Throughout the novel, Keneally displays his ability to convey the subtleties of each character, which adds depth to the story and feeds questions about the choices made under situations of stress and uncertainty.

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shame and the Captives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the edge of a small town in New South Wales, far from the battlefields of the Second World War, lies a prisoner-of-war camp housing Italian, Korean and Japanese soldiers. For their guards and the locals, many with loved ones away fighting, captive or dead, it is hard to know how to treat them - with disdain, hatred or compassion?

Alice, a young woman leading a dull life on her father-in-law's farm, is one of those with a husband held prisoner in Europe. When Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist, is assigned to work on the farm, she hopes that…

A Knock at Midnight

By Brittany K. Barnett,

Book cover of A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom

Melinda Lewis Author Of Social Policy for Effective Practice: A Strengths Approach

From the list on igniting students’ passions about policy change.

Who am I?

I am a policy advocate, grassroots activist, university professor, and author committed to social change—at scale—to advance social work values of racial, economic, environmental, and social justice. Recognizing that most social workers are drawn to our profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of their clients, one by one, I invest my energies and skills to making policy study and practice accessible, relevant, and urgent. My students quickly get used to noting the book recommendations I sprinkle throughout class discussions and in assignment feedback, because when you see the world through a social policy frame, everything has a policy implication! 

Melinda's book list on igniting students’ passions about policy change

Discover why each book is one of Melinda's favorite books.

Why did Melinda love this book?

Social work students are people people, so even with the interactive cases and vignettes that connect policy knowledge to practice, it can be difficult for students planning for a career in interpersonal therapy or crisis intervention to connect emotionally to complex policy topics like Social Security reform, net-zero carbon emissions, or criminal justice reform.

Barnett’s non-fiction title on the latter topic is page-turning and infused with heart. It also relates her activism and community organizing, in service of advancing justice in policing and corrections.

This part of her story helps students see how they, too, can take actions—even as an individual—that bear witness to our values and advance toward a vision of social change.

By Brittany K. Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Knock at Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST • NAACP IMAGE AWARD NOMINEE • A “powerful and devastating” (The Washington Post) call to free those buried alive by America’s legal system, and an inspiring true story about unwavering belief in humanity—from a gifted young lawyer and important new voice in the movement to transform the system.

“An essential book for our time . . . Brittany K. Barnett is a star.”—Van Jones, CEO of REFORM Alliance, CNN Host, and New York Times bestselling author 

Brittany K. Barnett was only a law student when she came across the case that would change her…

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

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

From the list on to completely reverse your whole brain.

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.

Matthew's book list on to completely reverse your whole brain

Discover why each book is one of Matthew's favorite books.

Why did Matthew love this book?

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.

By Will Bardenwerper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Prisoner in His Palace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Prisoner in His Palace is an evocative and thought-provoking account of how the lives of twelve young American soldiers deployed to Iraq are upended when they're asked to guard the most 'high-value detainee' of all, the notorious dictator Saddam Hussein.
What the self-dubbed 'Super Twelve' experience in the autumn of 2006 is cognitive dissonance at its most extreme. Expecting to engage with the enemy 'outside the wire', they're suddenly tasked with guarding and protecting a notorious dictator until he can be hanged.
Watching over Saddam in a former palace the soldiers dub 'The Rock' and regularly transporting their prisoner…

Book cover of The Note Through the Wire: The Incredible True Story of a Prisoner of War and a Resistance Heroine

Frank Romans Author Of Warriors of Ameraulde

From the list on keeping you turning the pages in anticipation.

Who am I?

I love a book that pulls you into the story, one where maybe you see yourself in the characters. As a boy, I loved to read and would lose myself in books. I find I am drawn to many different types and genres, but especially military or crime dramas. My favorites include historical references and in my own writing I often place characters in an actual historical event, but with a fictional outcome. The most important thing to me is creating a character who is interesting enough to make the reader want more. My personal military experiences were used to begin my first novel while the characters came to life.

Frank's book list on keeping you turning the pages in anticipation

Discover why each book is one of Frank's favorite books.

Why did Frank love this book?

I am a sucker for war-time love stories, and the tragedy of this one is it is true. An exceptional piece of writing about courage and love, set in the middle of the most heinous, horrific events of modern history. A simple, crumpled note passed between strangers through a barbed wire fence begins weaving a true tale, a love story rivaling that of Romeo and Juliet.

By Doug Gold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Note Through the Wire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An unforgettable love story set in perilous times' Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The greatest love blossoms in the darkest hour.

In the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe, two people meet fleetingly in a chance encounter. One is an underground resistance fighter; the other a prisoner of war. A crumpled note passes between these two strangers and sets them on a course that will change their lives forever.

The Note Through the Wire is the stunning true story of Josefine Lobnik, a resistance heroine, and Bruce Murray, an imprisoned soldier, as they discover love in the midst of…

Eyewitness Auschwitz

By Filip Müller,

Book cover of Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers

Patrick Hicks Author Of The Commandant of Lubizec: A Novel of the Holocaust and Operation Reinhard

From the list on the concentration camps of the Holocaust.

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated most of my writing career to the Holocaust, and in order to create novels that are historically accurate, I’ve interviewed survivors, as well as done research at many of the camps. It is one thing to study Auschwitz, but it’s an entirely different thing to walk its soil. I give lectures on the Holocaust and do readings from my novels all across the country, and I view my work as a way to open discussion about what happened in Europe between 1933-1945. As I often say, just because we live in a post-Holocaust world, does not mean we have come to understand the Holocaust.

Patrick's book list on the concentration camps of the Holocaust

Discover why each book is one of Patrick's favorite books.

Why did Patrick love this book?

This is a shattering account of a man who was forced to work in the gas chambers of Auschwitz for several years. Not only did he see the serial mass murder up close, but he also witnessed the failed rebellion at Crematorium IV on October 7, 1944. Müller’s writing is sparse and harrowing as he describes daily life in the Third Reich’s largest concentration camp. This is an essential document about the Holocaust and it helps the reader understand what it meant to be part of the Sonderkommando—those unfortunate prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria. This is an unforgettable and vital book.

By Filip Müller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eyewitness Auschwitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Filip Muller came to Auschwitz with one of the earliest transports from Slovakia in April 1942 and began working in the gassing installations and crematoria in May. He was still alive when the gassings ceased in November 1944. He saw millions come and disappear; by sheer luck he survived. Muller is neither a historian nor a psychologist; he is a source-one of the few prisoners who saw the Jewish people die and lived to tell about it. Eyewitness Auschwitz is one of the key documents of the Holocaust.

Book cover of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

Steve Pemberton Author Of The Lighthouse Effect: How Ordinary People Can Have an Extraordinary Impact in the World

From the list on demonstrating the power of the human spirit.

Who am I?

I’m most drawn to stories of overcoming. My own childhood was about exactly that-overcoming a multi-generational inheritance of family separation and orphaned children. When I wrote my first book about that story, A Chance in the World, an unanticipated magic unfolded: I began to receive stories of strangers from all across the world who wrote to tell me their own story of overcoming. Each and every day I hear from someone and the steady stream of those stories of overcoming affirms something I have to come to learn: we all have a story and none of us look like that story.

Steve's book list on demonstrating the power of the human spirit

Discover why each book is one of Steve's favorite books.

Why did Steve love this book?

One of Stephen King’s most famous stories, I am always inspired and moved by Andy Dufresne’s refusal to accept the terms and the condition of his imprisonment.

The subtlety and sophistication of his protest and his ultimate defeat of his captors and tormentors is an important reminder of the power of persistence. But there is another message in this story that is just as powerful and that is the beauty of the friendship.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The No. 1 bestselling author Stephen King's beloved novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption - the basis for the Best Picture Academy Award-nominee The Shawshank Redemption - about an unjustly imprisoned convict who seeks a strangely satisfying revenge, is now available as a standalone book.

There's a guy like me in every state and federal prison in America, I guess - I'm the guy who can get it for you.

And new convict Andy Dufresne wants two things from fellow prisoner Red: a small rock-hammer for carving stones and a giant poster of Rita Hayworth.

So begins this mesmerising tale…

Higher Education Accessibility Behind and Beyond Prison Walls

By Dani V. McMay (editor), Rebekah D. Kimble (editor),

Book cover of Higher Education Accessibility Behind and Beyond Prison Walls

Mneesha Gellman Author Of Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison

From the list on college in US prisons.

Who am I?

I have been involved with teaching in prison for the last 22 years, and have taught everything from creative writing to meditation to college classes across carceral facilities in New York, California, and Massachusetts. As the founder and director of the Emerson Prison Initiative at Emerson College’s campus at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, I constantly work with faculty and students who are navigating the teaching and learning environment under some of the most adverse circumstances. These books have helped me feel less alone in this work.

Mneesha's book list on college in US prisons

Discover why each book is one of Mneesha's favorite books.

Why did Mneesha love this book?

McMay and Kimble’s edited volume brings together a wide range of case studies looking at some form of higher education behind bars. Meant to showcase many different forms of higher education in prison, this book underscores the diversity of what higher education in prison can look like. In each case study, strengths and challenges of a given approach are visible and provide an honest look at how to support learners in a range of circumstances.

*Disclaimer—I have a chapter in this volume.

By Dani V. McMay (editor), Rebekah D. Kimble (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Higher Education Accessibility Behind and Beyond Prison Walls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Numerous studies indicate that completing a college degree reduces an individual's likelihood of recidivating. However, there is little research available to inform best practices for running college programs inside jails or prisons or supporting returning citizens who want to complete a college degree. Higher Education Accessibility Behind and Beyond Prison Walls examines program development and pedagogical techniques in the area of higher education for students who are currently incarcerated or completing a degree post-incarceration. Drawing on the experiences of program administrators and professors from across the country, it offers best practices for (1) developing, running, and teaching in college programs…

Better, Not Bitter

By Yusef Salaam,

Book cover of Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice

Laura Whitfield Author Of Untethered: Faith, Failure, and Finding Solid Ground

From the list on taking risks, falling, and getting back up.

Who am I?

After losing my beloved brother, I came to see the importance of taking risks and pursuing my dreams. What I learned is that with those risks come setbacks, even failure. I’ve lived a life of adventure and I’ve fallen down a lot, but I’ve also learned to get back up and go on. I love reading books about people who have learned resilience by trying, failing, gaining strength and wisdom, and carrying on. This experience is at the heart of what makes us human. It’s what connects us. I hope people who read my memoir will find the encouragement to keep going.

Laura's book list on taking risks, falling, and getting back up

Discover why each book is one of Laura's favorite books.

Why did Laura love this book?

Better, Not Bitter is the inspiring story of Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five (now Exonerated Five), who was arrested at fourteen and wrongfully incarcerated for seven years. While in prison, Yusef drew strength from his newfound faith—a faith that helped him survive the dangers he faced daily. In time, Yusef came to see that he was “born on purpose, with a purpose.” A powerful story of redemption and resilience, of one man’s mission to motivate others to make a difference in the world.

By Yusef Salaam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Better, Not Bitter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of 2021 by NPR

This inspirational memoir serves as a call to action from prison reform activist Yusef Salaam, of the Exonerated Five, that will inspire us all to turn our stories into tools for change in the pursuit of racial justice.

They didn't know who they had.

So begins Yusef Salaam telling his story. No one's life is the sum of the worst things that happened to them, and during Yusef Salaam's seven years of wrongful incarceration as one of the Central Park Five, he grew from child to man, and gained a spiritual perspective…


By T. J. Parsell,

Book cover of Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison

Robert Uttaro Author Of To The Survivors: One Man's Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence

From the list on sexual violence, hope and healing.

Who am I?

God gave me a life-long calling to help anyone affected by sexual violence. Words often fail when I try to describe the pain that results from sexual abuse and what it truly means to me to make a positive difference in the lives of survivors. My heart and soul break for those who are suffering from evil crimes, and yet I continuously see people disclosing, expressing, growing, and healing. From my many years working as a counselor and advocate, I've learned that very often people just need someone to be with them and listen. I'm committed to supporting others in this area for as long as I can be helpful.

Robert's book list on sexual violence, hope and healing

Discover why each book is one of Robert's favorite books.

Why did Robert love this book?

Fish is a powerful, detailed memoir about TJ Parsell’s incarceration in an adult prison as a teenager.

At the age of 17, Parsell chose to hold up a store with a toy gun, and that mistake led to horrific exploitation and sexual abuse by other inmates. This book deals with issues of gang rape, prison hierarchy, injustice, surviving behind bars, and Parsell’s growth into and embracing his own sexuality.

I felt sad and disgusted while reading it, however I learned so much and I believe this book is vitally important when thinking about prison systems, sentencing, and prison rape. Parsell was eventually released from prison, and he has dedicated so much of his life to prison reform, prevention of sexual violence, and helping survivors.  

By T. J. Parsell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When seventeen-year-old T. J. Parsell held up the local Photo Mat with a toy gun, he was sentenced to four and a half to fifteen years in prison. The first night of his term, four older inmates drugged Parsell and took turns raping him. When they were through, they flipped a coin to decide who would "own" him. Forced to remain silent about his rape by a convict code among inmates (one in which informers are murdered), Parsell's experience that first night haunted him throughout the rest of his sentence. In an effort to silence the guilt and pain of…

The Commonwealth of Thieves

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of The Commonwealth of Thieves

Peter Grose Author Of Ten Rogues: The unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen's Land to Chile

From the list on the history of Australia.

Who am I?

I’ve now written four books, of which three are Australian history. My first two books were World War 2 military history. My publishers persist in calling each book a best-seller, and who am I to disagree? I live in France and my third book A Good Place To Hide is about a French community that rescued Jews from the Nazis. My fourth book Ten Rogues took me back to Australian history, telling the story of a bunch of ten convicts who in 1834 nicked a brig and sailed it from Tasmania to Chile without a map or a compass.

Peter's book list on the history of Australia

Discover why each book is one of Peter's favorite books.

Why did Peter love this book?

Tom is an old mate, and a magician with words. He is also a prodigious researcher. Books: yes. The bibliography in The Commonwealth of Thieves runs to seven tight-packed pages, divided between primary sources (three pages) and secondary sources. The bibliography is underpinned by no fewer than 27 pages of notes. The Australian history I was taught at school was hogwash. Tom has set it straight in this brilliantly researched and off-the-wall history of our early days.

By Thomas Keneally,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Commonwealth of Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this spirited history of the remarkable first four years of the convict settlement of Australia, Thomas Keneally offers us a human view of a fascinating piece of history. Combining the authority of a renowned historian with a brilliant narrative flair, Keneally gives us an inside view of this unprecedented experiment from the perspective of the new colony’s governor, Arthur Phillips. Using personal journals and documents, Keneally re-creates the hellish overseas voyage and the challenges Phillips faced upon arrival: unruly convicts, disgruntled officers, bewildered and hostile natives, food shortages, and disease. He also offers captivating portrayals of Aborigines and of…

Surrender and Survival

By E. Bartlett Kerr,

Book cover of Surrender and Survival: The Experience of American Pow's in the Pacific 1941-1945

Robert C. Daniels Author Of 1220 Days: The Story of U.S. Marine Edmond Babler and His Experiences in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps During World War II

From the list on World War II POWs.

Who am I?

History has always been a strong part of me since I can remember. My heart has always laid in reading, studying, researching, and writing about it, and World War II history is a large part of that. When writing about World War II, I like to visit topics that relate to the everyday person, not well-known generals and admirals. I like to interview people about their experiences and write their stories, what they saw, lived through, witnessed. Both of my books are based upon this concept, how everyday people lived their lives during World War II.

Robert's book list on World War II POWs

Discover why each book is one of Robert's favorite books.

Why did Robert love this book?

Similar to my own book and used as a research document for it, Surrender and Survival contains a detailed account of Allied POWs in Japanese POW camps from the beginning of the war to its end and their repatriation back to their homelands. It covers many of the locations that Ed Babler was held during his captivity as well as describes the infamous Hell Ships that Ed and hundreds of other POWs were transported on from the Philippines to the Japanese Mainland Islands and elsewhere. In addition, it describes the concept of the Bushido Code, explaining why and how the average Japanese soldier was able to treat the POWs so horribly. I find it a very good read to understand why and how the POWs were so terribly treated.

By E. Bartlett Kerr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Surrender and Survival as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts Japanese treatment of more than twenty thousand U.S. prisoners of war during World War II, and discusses the cultural clashes that occurred

Book cover of The Septembers of Shiraz: A Novel

Germaine Shames Author Of Between Two Deserts

From the list on finding peace amid conflict.

Who am I?

I tell stories that make issues achingly and inescapably personal. After covering the first Palestinian Uprising for two winters as a correspondent and witnessing firsthand the gamut of senseless tragedies behind the headlines, I realized that hard news could never convey an iota of the deeper story I was gleaning. I turned to fiction writing and won my State's Literary Fellowship in Fiction. I learned that I can find light in the most horrific situations and leave readers with hope. Having earned a Masters degree in Intercultural Studies, I write from a global perspective with the conscious aim of fostering intercultural, interracial, and cross-gender understanding and healing. 

Germaine's book list on finding peace amid conflict

Discover why each book is one of Germaine's favorite books.

Why did Germaine love this book?

Revolutionary Iran was the wrong place to be Jewish and wealthy. Septembers of Shiraz paints a poignant portrait of a family targeted, plundered, and driven to the brink of ruin by a corrupt extremist regime. The beauty of the story is that the more these protagonists lose, the more they realize how little their possessions and status actually matter. Their true wealth resides in their love for one another and the hope of a brighter tomorrow. 

By Dalia Sofer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Septembers of Shiraz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches for him, suspecting, all the while, that their once-trusted housekeeper has turned on them and is now acting as an informer. And as his daughter, in a childlike attempt to stop the wave of baseless arrests, engages in illicit activities, his son, sent to New York before the rise of the Ayatollahs, struggles to find happiness even as he realizes that his family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.