Dec 27, 07
Read in January, 2007
This book is structured around excerpts from the autobiography of George Appo, a petty thief in New York in the late 19th century. The excerpts are very interesting- they tell his story of life in opium dens and streetcars, and the gangsters and criminals he associated with. Altogether, they would probably span about 50 pages, but this book is 544 pages long. It is filled with information about the US prison system (particularly in NY and PA) at the time, and generally about life in Manhattan at the time, and is unfortunately very dry.
I personally found the parts about the penal system to be the most interesting (if you want to know more about this topic, I highly recommend "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" by Lewis E. Lawes), especially the fact that for several years, the state of New York ran a "school ship" called the Mercury that was designed as an alternative punishment for juvenile offenders. If a minor (male, of course) was found guilty of a crime, he could be sentenced there instead of to one of the workhouses or prisons for any number of years. Onboard, he would learn the trade of seamanship, with the intention of becoming a sailor upon release. For various reasons this didn't last very long, but I think it is an admirable concept, and I wish that our judicial system offered something similar to rehabilitate troubled kids today.