Synopses & Reviews
A groundbreaking look at how America exported mass incarceration around the globe, from a rising young historian
"American Purgatory will forever change how we understand the rise of mass incarceration. It will forever change how we understand this country." —Clint Smith, bestselling author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
In this explosive new book, historian Benjamin D. Weber reveals how the story of American prisons is inextricably linked to the expansion of American power around the globe.
A vivid work of hidden history that spans the wars to subjugate Native American tribes in the mid-nineteenth century, the conquest of the Western territories, and the creation of an American Empire in Panama, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, American Purgatory reveals how "prison imperialism" — the deliberate use of prisons to control restive, subject populations — is written into our national DNA, the backdrop to our modern era of mass incarceration. Weber also uncovers a surprisingly rich history of prison resistance, from the Seminole Chief Osceola to Assata Shakur — one that invites us to rethink the scope of America's long freedom struggle.
Weber's brilliantly documented text is supplemented by original maps highlighting the global geography of prison imperialism, as well as illustrations of key figures in this history by the celebrated artist Ayo Scott. For readers of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, here is a bold new effort to tell the full story of prisons and incarceration — at home and abroad — as well as a powerful future vision of a world without prisons.
"American Purgatory is a tour de force that brings together the history of racial exploitation and colonialism over four centuries, as well as the various forms of opposition that consistently emerged in response to punitive developments. In doing so, Benjamin Weber provides a critical new framework that can help us envision a more equitable and just world."
Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime
"Masterfully researched and written, American Purgatory takes the history of mass incarceration to an entirely new level, as it connects centuries of American expansion and conquest on the North American continent and overseas to the planning logics and actual practices of prison systems. Benjamin Weber's global perspective on 'prison imperialism' as well as prisoners' resistance has produced a field-defining book."
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University
About the Author
Benjamin Weber is an assistant professor of African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis. He has worked at the Vera Institute of Justice, Alternate ROOTS, the Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, and as a public high school teacher in East Los Angeles. The author of American Purgatory (The New Press), he lives in Davis, California.