This is the history of one of the most remarkable prisoner uprisings in our country’s history. On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 inmates took over their facility in demand of their most basic human rights. Through dedication and a little luck, Heather Ann Thompson’s book draws on records that had been intentionally obscured from the public. She reveals new information about an old struggle that’s particularly useful, as the issue of our prison system and prisoner abuses is still alive: this fall, prisoners around the country held the largest strike in our history, with many of the same demands that prisoners in Attica made 45 years ago. The book recounts details that challenge popular beliefs about the people we lock behind bars, and the government we might expect to uphold basic human rights. Ann Thompson compellingly recounts the first definitive history of this event, interspersed with stories from the people involved. An excellent gift for someone engaged in the human rights struggles of our time, this book highlights many lessons we would benefit to take to heart.
Paris has long held a special place in the imagination as a city of beauty and glamour. There is a tendency in literature, film, and art to give the city a romantic aura. But behind that surface another Paris has long existed, a gritty place with its hidden corners that lie a world apart from the dream city of tourists’ imagination. Focusing on the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, The Other Paris documents that world—a world of crime, drugs, drinking and violence; of poverty, labor revolt, anarchism and socialism; and of cabaret, popular entertainment, sex, and prostitution. Using literary works, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and contemporary photos and illustrations, Sante brings to life a way of life that was ever near the lives of wealth and style shared by the elite, even if kept apart from them. Sante never patronize those whom he discusses, and he does not romanticize the harshness of the life gone by. But his work is a reminder that in past times, the poor at least had claim to the streets they inhabited. Today, poverty and wealth again sit side by side, but in Paris as elsewhere, those without are pushed away, undermining even “high” culture. Sante has produced a book documenting that loss, alongside documenting resilience.
It’s hard to imagine a week going by without Americans being killed by gun violence. And indeed, tension over gun rights and public safety has escalated during this presidential election year. For a unique perspective on the pervasiveness of gun deaths over our nation’s history, I heartily recommend a stunning little book, Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck. Written by Smithsonian Institution Fellow Peter Manseau and published by the original, and courageous publisher, Dennis Johnson, of Melville House, the book is a compendium of reports, photos, and illustrations from 300 years of newspapers recounting incidents of accidental gun deaths. It’s a serious and deadly topic, but the book is quirky, charming, and sadly amusing nonetheless.