The most recommended books about solitary confinement

Who picked these books? Meet our 7 experts.

7 authors created a book list connected to solitary confinement, and here are their favorite solitary confinement books.
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Book cover of The Witches of Vegas

Dan Rice Author Of Dragons Walk Among Us

From my list on YA fantasy and sci-fi with diverse perspectives.

Who am I?

As an author of young adult fantasy and science fiction, I’ve read many books that fall within that rubric. This list captures the most exciting young adult novels I’ve read over the past few years. All have aspects of storytelling and themes I strive to capture in my writing. One thing I love about the young adult genre is the characters go on an adventure full of excitement and danger. The adventure is a metaphor for growing up. So if reads chock-full of death-defying odds, mystery, wonder, and a sprinkling of romance are your jam, the books in this list are for you.

Dan's book list on YA fantasy and sci-fi with diverse perspectives

Dan Rice Why did Dan love this book?

The Witches of Vegas is a bewitching read that is hard to put down. Mainly, the narrative is divided between two high school-aged teens, Isis and Zack. Isis is a young witch kept in relative social isolation for her safety and the safety of others. The magic system in this world stems from emotion, and a young witch unable to control their feelings might magically lash out by accident. Zack is an apprentice magician, practicing card tricks and sleight of hand under his Uncle Herb's tutelage.

The Witches of Vegas is an enjoyable and quick read with a unique premise. I found Rosendorf's insight into how street performers pull off their tricks of particular interest.

By Mark Rosendorf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Where can Witches and their vampire mentor practice their powers without being discovered or persecuted?

By using their magic, the Witches of Vegas become the number one act performing on the Las Vegas Strip—a great achievement for them, but not so much for the magicians—who can't possibly keep pace.

Isis Rivera is the adopted fifteen-year old daughter of The Witches of Vegas. Zack Galloway is the teenage nephew and assistant to the last magician left in the city. Although they should be rivals, when Valeria, a four-hundred-year-old witch with a long-seeded grudge against humanity arrives in Sin-City, both teens act…


Book cover of The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka

Odafe Atogun Author Of Taduno's Song

From my list on political resistance.

Who am I?

As a teenager in the 80s, I witnessed the evils of dictatorship up to the 90s. And it was at that time that I became fascinated with the late iconic Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, who used his music as a weapon against tyranny. I read books such as The Man Died by Wole Soyinka, Animal Farm by George Orwell and Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton, and my love for protest literature was formed. Growing up, Fela Kuti’s philosophy shaped me and I found myself identifying with the downtrodden. And then I began to explore universal themes such as love, courage, and sacrifice through my writing.    

Odafe's book list on political resistance

Odafe Atogun Why did Odafe love this book?

I think this book is very important because Soyinka shows that the right of the people to protest cannot be restricted by walls or chains. That the oppressor is totally helpless against the will of the people, as also shown in Taduno’s Song by the protagonist Taduno and Kongi, a character modelled on Soyinka. Imprisoned without trial by the authorities at the start of the Nigerian civil war, Wole Soyinka’s prison notes provide records of the twenty 27 months he spent in solitary confinement, the very basis of the words that would cement his place as a prisoner of conscience and give rise to a body of work that would illuminate the world.

By Wole Soyinka,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

. Shipped from the U.K. All orders received before 3pm sent that weekday.


Book cover of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives

Amir Ahmadi Arian Author Of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

From my list on to understand solitary confinement.

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.

Amir's book list on to understand solitary confinement

Amir Ahmadi Arian Why did Amir love this book?

My list would not be complete without a work of scholarship. Of the texts I encountered during my research, this one stayed with me. It helped me develop a deeper, more philosophical insight into solitary experience. This book begins in the early days of the penitentiary system in the US, analyzing the inmates' experiences through a phenomenological approach. It discusses sensory deprivation, the way the disorienting experience of time in solitary interferes with basic sensory perception, and what this type of confinement does to the human mind. The author shows that all the justifications about the redemptive, corrective or reformative potential of this form of punishment are weak attempts at concealing what it is: an effective tool for the annihilation of human subjectivity.

By Lisa Guenther,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Prolonged solitary confinement has become a widespread and standard practice in U.S. prisons-even though it consistently drives healthy prisoners insane, makes the mentally ill sicker, and, according to the testimony of prisoners, threatens to reduce life to a living death. In this profoundly important and original book, Lisa Guenther examines the death-in-life experience of solitary confinement in America from the early nineteenth century to today's supermax prisons. Documenting how solitary confinement undermines prisoners' sense of identity and their ability to understand the world, Guenther demonstrates the real effects of forcibly isolating a person for weeks, months, or years.

Drawing on…


The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


Book cover of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

Virginia Reeves Author Of Work Like Any Other

From my list on imprisonment both literal and figurative.

Who am I?

The idea for my first novel came from a 1946 study of Alabama parolees, linking individual characteristics to the likelihood of recidivism. The outcomes were surprising in many instances: “promising factors” such as education, profession, and intelligence didn’t correlate with good behavior. This got me thinking about the lasting effects of imprisonment. Sentences don’t necessarily end when an inmate walks out the prison door. I see this again and again in the previously incarcerated students I teach at Helena College—they’ve been released from an institution, but mental and physical imprisonment lingers, and sometimes grows. The books on this list don’t shy away from that hard reality.

Virginia's book list on imprisonment both literal and figurative

Virginia Reeves Why did Virginia love this book?

Set during the 2005 bus-driver strikes in Iran, this book explores imprisonment at nearly every level—from the confinement of a totalitarian regime to the physical and psychological torture of a political prisoner, to the locked doors of one’s own mind, to the escape sought (and sometimes found) in heroine. What sticks with me most, however, is the interior exploration of the main character, Yunus, and the way seemingly small decisions lead to enormous consequences. 

By Amir Ahmadi Arian,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An critically-acclaimed Iranian author makes his American literary debut with this powerful and harrowing psychological portrait of modern Iran-an unprecedented and urgent work of fiction with echoes of The Stranger, 1984, and The Orphan Master's Son-that exposes the oppressive and corrosive power of the state to bend individual lives.

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,…


Book cover of Den of Lions: Memoirs of Seven Years

Teresa Fava Thomas Author Of American Arabists in the Cold War Middle East, 1946–75: From Orientalism to Professionalism

From my list on Americans living and working in the Middle East.

Who am I?

Teresa Fava Thomas, Ph.D. is a professor of history at Fitchburg State University and author of American Arabists in the Cold War Middle East, 1946-75: From Orientalism to Professionalism for Anthem Press. I became interested in people who became area experts for the US State Department and how their study of hard languages like Arabic shaped their interactions with people in the region.

Teresa's book list on Americans living and working in the Middle East

Teresa Fava Thomas Why did Teresa love this book?

Journalist Terry Anderson was working for the Associated Press, as part of a small contingent of American and British reporters living and working during the war in Lebanon. Taken hostage in 1985 and held for seven years Anderson describes how he coped with long years of punishment, extremes of loneliness, and isolation, then ultimately reached freedom. 

By Terry Anderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On March 16, 1985, Associated Press's Chief Middle East Correspondent, Terry Anderson, was kidnapped on the streets of Beirut. 2454 days - nearly seven years - later, he emerged into the light. "Den of Lions" is his memoir of that harrowing time; months of solitary confinement, beatings and daily humiliation. It is a story of personal courage, of brave and unflinching support for his fellow prisoners, but it is above all a love story - Madeleine Bassil, his fiancee, contributes her own chapters to their story, bringing up their child, Sulome, who never saw her father until she was six…


Book cover of The Winter of Enchantment

Sally Odgers Author Of Elysian Dawn

From my list on set on distant worlds.

Who am I?

I’m Tasmanian. I’ve loved books set in other worlds since I encountered Robert Heinlein’s juveniles in my teens. I often find books set in the mundane world of here-and-now implausible or dull, because the adventures seem contrived or else result from characters doing something stupid or bad. If characters venture to other worlds, or other planets though—that’s a different ballgame! I read a great deal of fantasy and sci-fi, and when I was fourteen, I started writing my own. I enjoy a wide variety of genres, but my favourite stories are those where I can follow relatable characters through wild adventures and believe every line.  

Sally's book list on set on distant worlds

Sally Odgers Why did Sally love this book?

The Winter of Enchantment is a fantasy rather than science fiction, but it still carries its protagonist, Sebastian, to another world and it’s a very far world indeed. Through the agency of a dimension travelling cat, a mirror, and a teapot, Sebastian leaves Victorian London and meets a girl named Melissa, a prisoner in the enchanter’s realm. Soon the new friends are on the quest for the items that will release Melissa from her century of solitary confinement, but since Melissa can’t leave her lonely but luxurious prison, Sebastian has to go alone. I’ve loved this book for a long time. There is a sequel, but that rather retcons parts of the first one.

By Victoria Walker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Winter of Enchantment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

Through a magic mirror Sebastian travels from his Victorian world of winter snow and Mrs. Parkin to a magic world of Melissa, Mantari the cat, a wicked Enchanter, and many other exciting people. Melissa, a pretty young girl, has been imprisoned in a large house by the wicked Enchanter. Sebastian first meets Melissa through the magic mirror and resolves to do everything in his power, and with the help of a little magic, to free her. First published in 1968, this wonderful children's classic is back in hardcover!


Book cover of In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison

Amir Ahmadi Arian Author Of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

From my list on to understand solitary confinement.

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.

Amir's book list on to understand solitary confinement

Amir Ahmadi Arian Why did Amir love this book?

After the news came out that Norman Mailer was writing a book about the life of Gary Gilmore, which came to be his magnum opus, The Executioner’s Song, he received a letter from a convict named Jack Henry Abbott. An avid reader of philosophy and literature who was also serving a life sentence, Abbott wrote to warn the renowned author against misapprehending American prisons and to teach him how to write about the violence of incarceration. The two men exchanged long, detailed letters. Eventually, Mailer collected Abbott’s letters in this book. In his letters, in a tone both detached and lyrical, Abbott writes unforgettably about what spending long years in prison does to one’s soul and body. In my view, the letter on solitary confinement is the finest and most harrowing chapter of this book.  

By Jack Henry Abbott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A collection of letters by a federal prisoner provides a candid look at life in prison, revealing his background, politics, and views on parole, rehabilitation, and capital punishment


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

Amir Ahmadi Arian Author Of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

From my list on to understand solitary confinement.

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.

Amir's book list on to understand solitary confinement

Amir Ahmadi Arian Why did Amir love this book?

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.  

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hell Is a Very Small Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Media attention for hardcover: Book got rave reviews in the New York Review of Books, Los Angeles Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. The work that Solitary Watch did to collect the material in this book was profiled in the New Yorker "Talk of the Town" section
Ongoing bi-coastal campaign and media outreach: Jean Casella and Jim Ridgeway are still tirelessly fighting against the practice of solitary confinement through their group Solitary Watch, and have recently launched a new campaign, "Letters to Solitary" modeled on the pieces in this book. Sarah Shourd's play about solitary confinement, The Box,…


Book cover of Stolen Time: One Woman's Inspiring Story as an Innocent Condemned to Death

Karen Slater Author Of My Journey Through Hell: Finding My True Worth

From my list on real life stories of people overcoming adversity.

Who am I?

I am Karen Slater the author of My Journey Through Hell. It’s a memoir of addiction and generational abuse. A story about my dysfunctional childhood and the negative consequences that took me to hell and back. The books I love the most are the stories that inspire me. The true stories of real people overcoming tragedy and adversity give me such hope and motivation to keep on doing what I do and reach other people still struggling. I like to think these are the books that radiate courage and optimism and let others know that we all have our crosses to bear but we can bear them nonetheless.

Karen's book list on real life stories of people overcoming adversity

Karen Slater Why did Karen love this book?

This is my all-time favourite book. I heard the author tell her story and her resilience over a zoom conference and I immediately knew that my life would never be the same. I didn’t know how but I knew I would be different.

Stolen Time is about a woman wrongly convicted for murder who spent 17 years incarcerated, five of those years were spent in solitary confinement on death row. Her partner was also sentenced and in fact executed two years before Sunny was exonerated. It's the beautiful way Sunny speaks that made this my all-time favourite read. It’s a love story with real tragedy but told in the most resilient and forgiving way. I found it totally inspiring. Sunny taught me that no matter what the circumstances we have a duty to love and forgive no matter what if we want to live free. No one can steal our…

By Sunny Jacobs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'In a world of one, I am alone, more alone than I have ever been in my life.Locked up in a box within a box where no one can enter and I cannot leave. I am to await my death.' In 1976 a twenty-eight-year-old mother of two and her partner were wrongfully sentenced to death by the Florida courts for the murder of two police officers. Sunny Jacobs would not taste freedom again for seventeen years, by which time her two children were estranged, her parents were dead and her beloved partner, Jesse Tafero, had been executed. Sunny spent five…


Book cover of The American Notes

Amir Ahmadi Arian Author Of Then the Fish Swallowed Him

From my list on to understand solitary confinement.

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.

Amir's book list on to understand solitary confinement

Amir Ahmadi Arian Why did Amir love this book?

Charles Dickens the novelist needs no introduction, but not many people appreciate how fine a nonfiction writer he was. The American Notes is a testament to this, especially the famous solitary confinement chapter. Dickens traveled widely in the US, and he visited the first solitary confinement compound in Philadelphia. The people in charge, excited by the arrival of such an esteemed visitor, took him around the premises and allowed him to speak with a few prisoners. After that, Dickens wrote a passionate, brutal attack on solitary confinement as a barbaric form of torture, interspersing his indictment with heart-wrenching accounts of his meetings with the demoralized inmates.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

American Notes for General Circulation is a travelogue by Charles Dickens detailing his trip to North America from January to June 1842. While there he acted as a critical observer of North American society, almost as if returning a status report on their progress. This can be compared to the style of his Pictures from Italy written four years later, where he wrote far more like a tourist. His American journey was also an inspiration for his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Having arrived in Boston, he visited Lowell, New York, and Philadelphia, and travelled as far south as Richmond, as far…