The Big House Image and Reality of the American Prison Stephen Cox

Icons of America
Publication date:
16 Oct 2009
256 pages: 229 x 152 x 24mm
25 black-&-white illustrations

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"The Big House" is America's idea of the prison---a huge, tough, ostentatiously oppressive pile of rock, bristling with rules and punishments, overwhelming in size and the intent to intimidate. Stephen Cox tells the story of the American prison--its politics, its sex, its violence, its inability to control itself--and its idealization in American popular culture. This book investigates both the popular images of prison and the realities behind them-: problems of control and discipline, maintenance and reform, power and sexuality. It conveys an awareness of the limits of human and institutional power, and of the symbolic and iconic qualities the "Big House" has attained in America's understanding of itself.

Stephen Cox is Professor of Literature and Director of the Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego. His most recent books are The New Testament and Literature, The Woman and the Dynamo, and The Titanic Story.

"A first-rate piece of writing...captures and renders novel and interesting a remarkable nineteenth century creation that lingers on in the twenty-first."--Andrew Scull, author of Madhouse -- Andrew Scull "Professor Cox has brought prison studies into mainstream intellectual discourse, something Foucault tried to do but failed."-Nathan Kantrowitz, author of Close Control: Managing a Maximum Security Prison -- Nathan Kantrowitz "Short and very well written, The Big House captures beautifully the complexities, dilemmas, horrors and permanent fascination of prison life. It is humane without sentimentality and realistic without cynicism."-Theodore Dalrymple, author of Life at the Bottom -- Theodore Dalrymple