Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment” as Want to Read:
Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  47 Ratings  ·  9 Reviews
America's criminal justice system is broken. The United States punishes at a higher per capita rate than any other country in the world. In the last twenty years, incarceration rates have risen 500 percent. Sentences are harsh, prisons are overcrowded, life inside is dangerous, and rehabilitation programs are ineffective. Police and prosecutors operate in the dark shadows ...more
Hardcover, 337 pages
Published March 3rd 2014 by Harvard University Press
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Inferno, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Inferno

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jan 18, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it
This is a powerhouse study of the America prison system and the psychological reasons why our society’s general awareness of the system’s flaws hasn’t resulted in meaningful improvement. The writing is clear and his tone is confident and consistent. It’s well-organized, and features a particularly thoughtful (if idealistic) proposal for prisoner restoration.

The author's use of American and Western literature to depict the act, reception, and witnessing of punishment is very illuminating – these
Alan Mills
Sep 07, 2014 Alan Mills rated it really liked it
No startling new information here: Ferguson's take is different. Using the lens of philosophy, bookended by Jack Abbott's In the Belly of the Beast and Dante's Inferno, he examines the justification (or lack thereof) for incarcerating so many people, under such harsh conditions.

The public gets pleasure in punishment, and has sufficiently "othered" the poor Black men who largely fill our prisons, that change is going to be really hard. He lays out 7 principles for reforming the system....but none
Apr 20, 2014 Nicole rated it it was amazing
Shelves: unowned, 2014
This is a compelling analysis of the American punishment system - its origins and foundations, current state, and where we go from here. Ferguson grounds his analysis in a diverse batch of sources. As a big reader myself, I particularly enjoyed the use of literary sources as a reference point for understanding the themes discussed - sources include The Brothers Karamazov,In the Penal Colony, and The Just and the Unjust.

The book asks the important question of why America punishes more severely th
Jul 23, 2014 Gordon rated it really liked it
My master plac'd, in graceful act and kind.
Whence I of his intent before appriz'd,
Stretch'd out to him my cheeks suffus'd with tears.
There to my visage he anew restor'd
That hue, which the dun shades of hell conceal'd.
Then on the solitary shore arriv'd,
That never sailing on its waters saw
Man, that could after measure back his course,
He girt me in such manner as had pleas'd
Him who instructed, and O, strange to tell!
As he selected every humble plant,
Wherever one was pluck'd, another there
Jan 06, 2016 Catherine rated it liked it
This book is on an important subject, it is by a very bright author, and it engages in a fascinating discussion of current mass incarceration practices by way of lots of literary comparisons. But it is also a book that badly needs a talented editor. Much of the author's prose is impenetrable, because he loves academic jargon, and often seems to be speaking to himself, with elliptical, incomprehensible references to concepts and discussions he has never shared with the reader. He has an ...more
Apr 30, 2015 Kevin rated it it was ok
A disappointing critique of the criminal justice system from a Columbia University professor. The book will not change minds. Ferguson expects everyone to be as outraged at the state of the US prisons as he is, but then ends paragraph after paragraph with rhetorical questions about why we tolerate it. I don't think this approach works.
Sep 11, 2014 Mark rated it liked it
Useful background for those interested in why we punish the way we do. The writing made for a long slog: Far too philosophical and theoretical for this narrative lover's tastes.
Laura rated it liked it
Dec 12, 2015
Gavin Boone
Gavin Boone rated it it was amazing
Dec 26, 2015
Roger rated it really liked it
Jun 12, 2014
Ray Stoney
Ray Stoney rated it really liked it
Apr 09, 2014
Leigh rated it really liked it
Dec 20, 2015
Jordan Donnelly
Jordan Donnelly rated it it was amazing
Jan 01, 2015
Madeline rated it really liked it
Apr 02, 2014
Joel rated it it was amazing
Feb 19, 2015
Sean rated it really liked it
May 10, 2015
Blake Eaton
Blake Eaton rated it really liked it
Aug 08, 2016
Mumei rated it it was amazing
May 08, 2015
CJ Ruby
CJ Ruby rated it liked it
Sep 11, 2014
Erik Dalgleish
Erik Dalgleish rated it did not like it
Jan 24, 2015
Chris rated it liked it
Apr 04, 2015
Erika rated it really liked it
Apr 18, 2016
Ian Macdougall
Ian Macdougall rated it it was amazing
Mar 14, 2014
M.M. Gill
M.M. Gill rated it it was ok
Jul 15, 2014
Mary rated it it was amazing
Jan 03, 2016
Kiernan Michau
Kiernan Michau rated it really liked it
Sep 14, 2016
John Bloise
John Bloise rated it really liked it
Sep 24, 2014
Neil Vandenberge
Neil Vandenberge rated it really liked it
Jul 23, 2015
Ed Zentz
Ed Zentz rated it really liked it
Jun 25, 2014
janet smart
janet smart rated it it was amazing
May 07, 2015
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality
  • Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America
  • Global Catastrophic Risks
  • When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment
  • Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis
  • Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better
  • Life in Prison: Eight Hours at a Time
  • Blind Into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq
  • On Democracy's Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought "One Person, One Vote" to the United States
  • Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health
  • A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden
  • Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row
  • American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning
  • The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today
  • A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America
  • War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars
  • The Wrong Men: America's Epidemic of Wrongful Death Row Convictions
  • Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality
George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature, and Criticism, Columbia Law School
More about Robert A. Ferguson...

Share This Book