Jeffrey's Reviews > Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America

Cruel and Unusual by Anne-Marie Cusac
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's review
Oct 07, 2010

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bookshelves: non-fiction, baltimore-city-paper-top-10, award-year-2009, read-in-2010
Recommended for: People interested in understanding historical factors influencing current events
Read from September 25 to October 07, 2010 , read count: 1

Anne-Marie Cusac's profile of the America's societal attitudes towards discipline and punishment is well done, if inconsistent.

Her early chapters, covering colonial and early American justice lean academic in style while her later chapters on modern practices tends towards the sensational, if highly accurate.

Her arguments concerning the rise of the religious right its impact on American attitudes towards criminality and punishment beginning in the 1970s, but carrying through to modern day are the strongest portion of the work, with concrete associations between them, the return of a notion of inherent evil, and revenge culture making a strong case to how one eventually arrives at Abu Ghiraib and Guantanomo

Less convincing is her association of American pop culture, in particular police procedurals, with this cultural shift. It overlooks the nature and origins of these stories, including multiple non-American influences from countries where the culture is decidedly different.

Still, to gain an understanding of where we stand in terms of our treatment of prisoners, not all of them are even convicts, and just how far the country has gone off track in this area, it's well worth the read.

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Reading Progress

09/27/2010 page 27
8.0% "About the religious, primarily puritan, origins of American law (i.e. Burn the witch!)"
09/28/2010 page 52
16.0% "On the history of American prisons"
09/29/2010 page 77
24.0% "On punishment creep and the meaning of a Jane Austen title"
09/30/2010 page 121
38.0% "The 70s and the return to the concept of inherent evil"
10/06/2010 page 158
49.0% "on Christian spankers (not nearly as exciting as it sounds) and Lisa (Blair from Facts of Life) Whechel's post tv career as a writer of christian discipline child rearing books"
10/07/2010 page 193
60.0% "In her analysis of pop culture and crime, Cusac tries to make some aspects of culture uniquely American, yet she uses examples like.. Ozzy Osbourne and Sergei Eisenstein. Not to say most of her examples aren't American, but it's still distracting."

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