10 Books About Prison

This week sees the latest instalment in my popular famous book series. In recent years I have read a number of books about prisons/prisoners, all of which I have reviewed here on my blog. I thought it would make an interesting topic for a post.

Here are 10 books (4 of which I’ve read) about prison:


Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
Invitation to a Beheading

Invitation to a Beheading was originally published in a Russian émigré magazine in 1935-6. The book’s protagonist is Cincinnatus C., a prison inmate and citizen of an imaginary country, who has been sentenced to death.


Darkness At Noon by Arthur KoestlerDarkness At Noon

Darkness At Noon is dedicated to the victims of The Moscow Trials.  Although the characters in the book are fictitious, the historical circumstances are not. Protagonist Rubashov is a veteran of the Revolution and a decorated war hero.

Click here to read my review.


The Great Escape by Paul BrickhillThe Great Escape

The Great Escape chronicles the famous escape of more than 600 men from a German prisoner-of-war camp. Their escape was meticulously planned over the course of year. Tunnels were dug, maps drawn, passports forged and clothes made. Then came the big night.


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is a former POW serving a 10 year term in a Gulag on the Kazakh steppe for being a spy. He is innocent. The book chronicles a single day of his existence, beginning with a 5 a.m. reveille.

Click here to read my review. 


Birdman of Alcatraz by Thomas E. Gaddis

Birdman of Alcatraz

This is the story of Robert Stroud, an inmate of the notorious Alcatraz prison, situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Stroud became so fascinated with the birds that landed outside his cell that he wrote several books about their behaviour.


Papillon by Henri Charrière

PapillonPapillon is an autobiography about Henri Charrière.  Convicted in Paris of a murder that he did not commit, Charrière was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana, where he became obsessed with the idea of escape.


Midnight Express by Billy Hayes & William Hoffer

Midnight ExpressIn 1970 Billy Hayes, an English student, was caught smuggling hashish in Istanbul airport. His punishment, life imprisonment in a Turkish prison. One night he made a daring bid for freedom. Midnight Express is an Academy Award-winning film of the same name.


Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

Hocus PocusWhen protagonist Eugene Debs was sacked from his job as a college professor he became a teacher at a local prison. This unusually constructed novel is presented as if it had been written on scraps on paper and then assembled.


The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Pierre Rigoulot, & Kang Chol Hwan  

The Aquariums of PyongyangChol-Hwan is a North Korean, whose family had previously resided in Japan. The family initially flourished in their adopted country, but then they were sent to a prison camp. Chol-Hwan eventually fled to China and then on to South Korea.

Click here to read my review.


Escape from Camp 14 Blaine Harden Escape From Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14 is the life story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only known person born in a North Korean gulag to have escaped.  Shin started life in a fenced encampment less than fifty miles north of the capital Pyongyang.

Click here to read my review.




Leave a comment
  • Another good post Guy. Although I haven’t read any of these books, I’ve watched a few of the film adaptations. I’m not generally a big film lover, but I enjoy films about prisons/prison escapes. As I often say about a lot of the books I read, I think it’s that whole survival in the face of adversity thing that appeals to me. 🙂

    • I agree Heather, few things are more engrossing than survival in the face of adversity. Midnight Express is a good film.

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