If you have the capacity to read one book on prisons this month, which should you choose?

For many people I would say without hesitation: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012). It is a stunning book. Or it was for me. Call me naïve, but it had never occurred to me that the cancerous growth of the prison system since the 1970s might have been a response to the success of the Civil Rights movement in the ’60s.

I knew many pieces of Alexander’s thesis — the way Republicans since Nixon have won elections with covert appeals to racism (the infamous “Southern strategy”), or the way the “war on drugs” set penalties for drugs used by blacks as much as a hundredfold higher than for those used by whites. But I hadn’t seen...

You do not currently have access to this content.