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Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years

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This Kindle eBook edition has been completely revised, reedited and updated with new inmate / officer interviews and historical accounts! NOTE: This book contains graphic depictions of crime and prison violence. ALCATRAZ – the name alone said it all… It was meant to send a shudder down the spines of the nation's most incorrigible criminals. It stripped Al Capone of his powe This Kindle eBook edition has been completely revised, reedited and updated with new inmate / officer interviews and historical accounts! NOTE: This book contains graphic depictions of crime and prison violence. ALCATRAZ – the name alone said it all… It was meant to send a shudder down the spines of the nation's most incorrigible criminals. It stripped Al Capone of his power. It tamed "Machine Gun" Kelly into a model of decorum. It took the birds away from the Birdman of Alcatraz. When prisoners boarded the boat for Alcatraz, they knew that they had reached the end of the line. Not only was this the toughest of all Federal penitentiaries, but it was also said to be virtually escape-proof. The island was a natural fortress, separated from the mainland by a narrow strait of freezing water and deadly currents. This prison was the U.S. government’s drastic answer to the lawlessness unleashed under Prohibition, which continued throughout the “Roaring Twenties” and into the teeth of the Great Depression. Alcatraz, with its damp cold and austere isolation, its rigid discipline and strict rule of silence, was as tough as the criminals that were sent there, and by the time the prison closed down in 1963, "the Rock" had indisputably done its job. Alcatraz - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years has sustained as a staple reference for staff members and tour guides at Alcatraz, and remains one of the most comprehensive references chronicling the history of the island. This mammoth reference navigates the Island's history through rarely seen documents, interviews and hundreds of pages of historic photographs. Author interviews range from men such as legendary FBI fugitive James “Whitey’ Bulger; Dale Stamphill, a principle in the 1938 escape with Doc Barker and Henry Young; to Atom Spy Morton Sobell, the codefendant of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Historian Michael Esslinger thoroughly details the prominent events, inmates, and life inside the most infamous prison in American History. His research included hundreds of hours examining actual Alcatraz inmate files (including rare original documents from Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and over a hundred others) exploring the prison grounds from the rooftop to the waterfront to help retrace events, escape routes, in addition to conducting various interviews with former inmates & guards. Esslinger interviewed a variety of principle figures, comprised of both inmates and officers who were either involved, on-duty or on Alcatraz during nearly escape attempt. Interviews included inmates and officers that covered each era of operations at Alcatraz from the early military period in the 1920’s, through the federal years: 1934 to 1963. His study has resulted in detailed accounts of both the 1946 & 1962 Escape attempts. A detailed account of the 1962 escape of Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers provides rare insight extracted through photos, and over 1,700 pages of FBI and Bureau of Prisons investigative notes. Detailed narratives of Alcatraz's most notable inmates who include Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Morris, the Anglin Brothers, Doc Barker, Joe Cretzer, Bernard Coy, Miran Thompson, Sam Shockley, and many-many others. Alcatraz Federal Prison - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years, is a comprehensive reference on the history of Alcatraz and contains one of the most comprehensive archives of inmate and prison life photographs (nearly 1,000) from 1934-1963.


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This Kindle eBook edition has been completely revised, reedited and updated with new inmate / officer interviews and historical accounts! NOTE: This book contains graphic depictions of crime and prison violence. ALCATRAZ – the name alone said it all… It was meant to send a shudder down the spines of the nation's most incorrigible criminals. It stripped Al Capone of his powe This Kindle eBook edition has been completely revised, reedited and updated with new inmate / officer interviews and historical accounts! NOTE: This book contains graphic depictions of crime and prison violence. ALCATRAZ – the name alone said it all… It was meant to send a shudder down the spines of the nation's most incorrigible criminals. It stripped Al Capone of his power. It tamed "Machine Gun" Kelly into a model of decorum. It took the birds away from the Birdman of Alcatraz. When prisoners boarded the boat for Alcatraz, they knew that they had reached the end of the line. Not only was this the toughest of all Federal penitentiaries, but it was also said to be virtually escape-proof. The island was a natural fortress, separated from the mainland by a narrow strait of freezing water and deadly currents. This prison was the U.S. government’s drastic answer to the lawlessness unleashed under Prohibition, which continued throughout the “Roaring Twenties” and into the teeth of the Great Depression. Alcatraz, with its damp cold and austere isolation, its rigid discipline and strict rule of silence, was as tough as the criminals that were sent there, and by the time the prison closed down in 1963, "the Rock" had indisputably done its job. Alcatraz - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years has sustained as a staple reference for staff members and tour guides at Alcatraz, and remains one of the most comprehensive references chronicling the history of the island. This mammoth reference navigates the Island's history through rarely seen documents, interviews and hundreds of pages of historic photographs. Author interviews range from men such as legendary FBI fugitive James “Whitey’ Bulger; Dale Stamphill, a principle in the 1938 escape with Doc Barker and Henry Young; to Atom Spy Morton Sobell, the codefendant of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Historian Michael Esslinger thoroughly details the prominent events, inmates, and life inside the most infamous prison in American History. His research included hundreds of hours examining actual Alcatraz inmate files (including rare original documents from Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and over a hundred others) exploring the prison grounds from the rooftop to the waterfront to help retrace events, escape routes, in addition to conducting various interviews with former inmates & guards. Esslinger interviewed a variety of principle figures, comprised of both inmates and officers who were either involved, on-duty or on Alcatraz during nearly escape attempt. Interviews included inmates and officers that covered each era of operations at Alcatraz from the early military period in the 1920’s, through the federal years: 1934 to 1963. His study has resulted in detailed accounts of both the 1946 & 1962 Escape attempts. A detailed account of the 1962 escape of Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers provides rare insight extracted through photos, and over 1,700 pages of FBI and Bureau of Prisons investigative notes. Detailed narratives of Alcatraz's most notable inmates who include Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz), Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Morris, the Anglin Brothers, Doc Barker, Joe Cretzer, Bernard Coy, Miran Thompson, Sam Shockley, and many-many others. Alcatraz Federal Prison - A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years, is a comprehensive reference on the history of Alcatraz and contains one of the most comprehensive archives of inmate and prison life photographs (nearly 1,000) from 1934-1963.

30 review for Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years

  1. 5 out of 5

    john Adams

    If you have ever visited Alcatraz and listened to the combination of the Rangers and the audio tour then you have already ingested the meat of this book. If you haven't visited Alcatraz, then this book can basically act as a substitute. The book is basically a giant walk through the park. As if you were walking through Alcatraz, the book takes the reader through the destinations on the Island. Stopping at each destination, such as “Cellblock D,” the book offers plethora of pictures, historical a If you have ever visited Alcatraz and listened to the combination of the Rangers and the audio tour then you have already ingested the meat of this book. If you haven't visited Alcatraz, then this book can basically act as a substitute. The book is basically a giant walk through the park. As if you were walking through Alcatraz, the book takes the reader through the destinations on the Island. Stopping at each destination, such as “Cellblock D,” the book offers plethora of pictures, historical and architecture facts, and interesting antidotes about what occurred in each location. After walking the reader through the Park the book then gives a detailed history of both the “most famous inmates” and every significant escape attempt. This is literally a more detailed version of the information you would get from visiting the Park. Not only is it the same information, but it takes the same approach that the Park Service does. It focuses on the location and then gives information about that location. This is exactly why this book was recommended to be by a Park Ranger. Recently, I have been volunteering at Alcatraz with the intention of getting my foot in the door for a job. The success of that intention aside, the book acts as a basic road map for any who would work at Alcatraz, and therefore is perfect for anyone interested in either visiting or skipping a visit. Since I have only about five subscribers to my reviews and this book will be of little interest to any them, and because I have lots of time and because historiography is something that interests me I am going to indulge my own thought process and put my thoughts to paper (I am blogging here). I asked myself what is the thesis of this book, because the answer is not so obvious? First, this book is sort of an encyclopedia, but this begged the question do encyclopedias have theses and if so what are they? Encyclopedia theses are more a result of the long writing process of history than an actual argument. History is written in a long process: First, there is evidence. Then academics apply a theory and develop an argument about that evidence. Then that evidence is collaborated by other academics. Next the academic arguments are peer reviewed—one needs to determine if they are full of shit or not. The evidence, reviews, opposing arguments, and collaborative evidence are eventually synthesized into what is know as a cohesive meta-argument. The meta argument then eventually moves out of the academic world and into the world of books that you might find at Barns n Nobles (imagine David McCullough's John Adams). Once those meta-arguments permeate society they become encyclopedias and high school text books. “True” or not those Meta-arguments are all over the place. A few examples: the United States entry into World War Two defeated the Nazis (truth, it helped, but defeated, probably not, the Russians defeated the Nazis—but what does that mean about the necessity Normandy?). Ronald Regan's arms race caused the fall the Soviet Union (truth, not really, the Soviet Union was tenuous Union and Gorbachev chose to end it after a military blunder and on the verge of internal combustion... the Soviets actually had many more nuclear weapons then United States ever did. If it was a nuclear arms race than the United States came in second, one behind Russia.) The meta-argument permeates society until it no longer does. For example, did Columbus 'discover' America? Seventy years ago, unquestionably the answer to that question was yes, the meta-argument and a cute little rhyme about 1492. Today that history has changed and the answer to the question goes something more like this: “yes, but not really. There were those Vikings, right?” Columbus was dethroned by a combination of changing historical theories, more evidence, and a step a way form a Eurocentrism. Which brings me back to Alcatraz, and question of what is the thesis of this book? Alcatraz is the escape proof prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay that is today an important Historical landmark. This is our meta-argumental assumption and the thesis of this encyclopedia. The book's entire purpose is to support that theory. San Francisco is a hub of the National Park System. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the world's largest urban parks, San Francisco is the major city supporting Yosemite (the most visited National Park and the source of the city's pure drinking water), and Alcatraz sits in the center of it all. It's an argument that I happen to agree with and support. We have to support the park system and no place does it better than San Francisco. This is an interesting book that expressly supports our assumptions about Alcatraz and the national park system.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dkovlak

    This is a very good book. I learned a lot about criminals from the 1930s to the 1960s. I also learned a lot about the various escape attempts. It is very sad that people's crimes result in this type of incarceration. This is all due to people leading ungodly lives. This book proves that it is so much better to lead a Godly life. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. - 2 Corinthians 5:17

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Huxtable

    Utterly fascinating Wow!! Alcatraz is so much more interesting than I could have thought. The history of how it was founded and built, the prisoners, the staff and their families even. I'm glad I got to read this

  4. 4 out of 5

    Linda Boda

    This really lives up to its title: it IS a definitive history of Alcatraz! We purchased this after a trip to California last summer, when we took the National Park tour of the prison. Reading the book after visiting was very rich, because I could picture everything I read about in my head. The author did an incredible amount of research for this -- historical info on many inmates, interviews and photos about every escape attempt in Alcatraz's history, even visiting various inmates' graves across This really lives up to its title: it IS a definitive history of Alcatraz! We purchased this after a trip to California last summer, when we took the National Park tour of the prison. Reading the book after visiting was very rich, because I could picture everything I read about in my head. The author did an incredible amount of research for this -- historical info on many inmates, interviews and photos about every escape attempt in Alcatraz's history, even visiting various inmates' graves across the country and following up on those who were released. I imagine you would not enjoy this as much as I did if you have not visited this National Historic Site. It's very long, but so rich in detail. It tells the REAL story, as much as is possible - dispelling a lot of Hollywood myths (ex. The Birdman of Alcatraz). Fascinating!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Luckngrace

    Michael Esslinger has included absolutely everything about Alcatraz in this book. The first third encompasses all the physical aspects of the island and prison from the 1600s to the present; it's uses as a shield from enemy ships, it's uses during the Civil War and both World Wars followed by it's use as a military prison and, finally, a federal prison for America's most wanted mobsters and violent offenders. There are maps and illustrations for every location, person and event covered. The middl Michael Esslinger has included absolutely everything about Alcatraz in this book. The first third encompasses all the physical aspects of the island and prison from the 1600s to the present; it's uses as a shield from enemy ships, it's uses during the Civil War and both World Wars followed by it's use as a military prison and, finally, a federal prison for America's most wanted mobsters and violent offenders. There are maps and illustrations for every location, person and event covered. The middle section consists biographies of Alcatraz's most famous prisoners, like: Al Capone, Birdman of Alcatraz, Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker's boys and many I'd never run across in previous detail. These biographies are just GREAT; I would have bought the book just for that section. I learned WHY these men turned out the way they did, their mindset, strengths and weaknesses with lots of pictures and illustrations. Lastly, escape attempts and executions were covered. All the hows and whys and outcomes, along with maps made me feel as if I was right there standing on the beach watching the action through a smokey haze. If you enjoy history or nonfiction at all, you'll love this epic story of America's monument to crime control. Ironically, after the prison closed in 1963, several former inmates wrote books about their time on The Rock, made money and sometimes made money from movie adaptations as well. Not in the book is the TV show of the same name. This book is better.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    The book is very well researched and the photos truly add another dimension. The middle chapters for myself dragged down the book a bit. Detailed histories were given for some of the prisoners and after awhile they blurred together as a short summary would be: prisoner as a child grew up in poverty, was one of at least six siblings, and had a parent die at an early age.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Holy cow this was a big book! I wanted to read it before I went to visit Alcatraz, but was not able to finish it. I think I enjoyed it more after the visit as I was able to visualize the prison and surrounding areas - especially reading about the escape attempts. Very informative read about the island, including the history from the Civil War years.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Not really a book for reading from start to finish. It's an info dump — a good info dump, but an info dump nonetheless. Best for dipping in every once in a while and learning something interesting.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Beloney

    This is a wonderful book to read, Ive read it twice I highly recommend this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Great read. Lots of history of my area in Kansas ties to it surprisingly.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margo Burnison

    well reviewed book with lots of information, facts, pictures and personal backgrounds. This book really does indicate what a horrid exsistence the prison system is set up to be.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Meticulously researched and written, this book meets the criteria of "A Definitive History..." A fascinating read!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marco Delrosario

    I think most of the other reviews summed it up pretty well. If the subject of Alcatraz interests you, this book is for you.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Great book with very detailed history of Alcatraz as well the prisoners who lived there.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mollie Harrison Pennock

    When I visited Alcatraz several years ago, I purchased this in the bookstore. As the title indicates, it is truly a definitive history. At 451 pages, I believe it can be classified as a tome! My copy is 8 ¼” wide, 10 ¾” long, and 1 ¼” thick, so is not easily portable. Although it reads fairly easily, due to its length, I found myself delaying completion of reading it. The author did exhaustive research, including interviews with surviving guards, family members who lived on the island, and survi When I visited Alcatraz several years ago, I purchased this in the bookstore. As the title indicates, it is truly a definitive history. At 451 pages, I believe it can be classified as a tome! My copy is 8 ¼” wide, 10 ¾” long, and 1 ¼” thick, so is not easily portable. Although it reads fairly easily, due to its length, I found myself delaying completion of reading it. The author did exhaustive research, including interviews with surviving guards, family members who lived on the island, and surviving inmates. The book has several major sections: History of Alcatraz Island, Notorious Inmates, Attempted Escapes, and the Closing of Alcatraz. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to read a detailed overview and history of Alcatraz. It is especially meaningful if one has visited the island. On each page, there is a 2 ¾” border, which wastes a lot of space. On some pages, the border is blank. On other pages, the border contains photos and supporting documents. Often the visuals are larger than the border, so spill outside it. Many of the supporting documents are too small to read. I believe my copy is a first edition, and there are a number of typographical errors and inconsistencies in punctuation.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Wellman

    Great sleep aid I liked this book. It was filled with so much information and I will refer to it again, I am sure. BUT it is so dry and hard to read without dozing off! I took me longer than usual to read as a result and often I'd have to start fresh. Difficult to remain focused and for that I was frustrated. The kindle version seemed to cut out some images that were referenced and probably contained in the physical book format. Strongly recommend

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carl Deskins,III

    A review of the outstanding book entitled Alcatraz Thus is a well researched book that is well-written and it presents a number of reasons for various assumptions that were detailed and explained by the author. This book covers all the history and leaves no questions!!! This is really a excellent book that leaves no question unanswered!!!! I would recommend this book to anyone that has an undying curiosity for material goods mixed with a undying need to explore!!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matt Collins

    A Very Thorough Investigation The author did a thorough biography of Alcatraz with many photographs. A very educational and entertaining read with photographs from Alcatraz's birth to her retired history as a park. Of course, the history includes the famous inmates and original drawings, pictures, and maps of all attempted escapes. This book puts you right there and really makes you want to visit for a tour!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    I tore through this book. You could say its an info dump that gets a little monotonous when it hits the list of prison breaks towards the end. Though other than that flaw, I think it is very well written and presented without bias or opinion and yet is very compelling. Esslinger is also very thorough in its research. I appreciated everything about this book myself.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Douglas E. Gillis

    Outstanding This is one of the best books I’ve read. I built many prisons during my working years, and when we say that we have two years to build it, the inmates have a hundred years to find the weak points. The other saying we had is, If you build it, they will come. In most cases, the prisons that I built were full before we break ground.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ray Guerra

    The rock This book goes into a lot of detail on each chapter and person. Sometimes there's a little too much emphasis on the the person instead of the escape. The writer does a real good job of telling the true story instead of the Hollywood version.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    Everything you ever wanted to know about Alcatraz. Interesting read, a little slow at times, but I enjoyed the stories about every escape attempt from the island and about the more well-known prisoners.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    For me this is not a book to read cover to cover. It is more of a dip-in-here-and-there kind of book. I found lots of fascinating information about this iconic prison and will probably dip into it again occasionally.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christine Mathieu

    So far Esslinger's "Penitentiary Years" was the most interesting book on the topic Alcatraz for me. It has an incredible amount of pics and is very well-written. Now I'm curious if "Escaping Alcatraz" (2017) will be as good as this one.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shiffra

    Detailed and intersting Super detailed and a lot of the stories had me rivited. Some of them I skimmed as they were not as unique or as interesting to me. But I liked that it was all in one book because what one person finds interesting won't be the same as another

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    I have not visited Alcatraz, so I REALLY enjoyed this book. It is a well researched history of The Rock and its evolution over the years.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vince Cooper

    Very detailed history of Alcatraz. I've been on two prior tours of Alcatraz and compared to this book, they were trash. After reading I want to walk the island again with my new found knowledge.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    In my opinion, very poorly written and edited. The information, however, is very interesting and there are a lot of source documents in the book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dallas Autery

    Good back It was very informative. I recommend it to any one interested in Alcatraz and it's bcc very colorful history. Check it out.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

    Good book - lot of research and good writing style.

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