By J. Ward Regan
"Many of the world's most vital ancient figures have been imprisoned for containing unpopular or heretical ideals. a few used their time in the back of bars to put in writing books that formed the process historical past. This selection of new essays deals a wide-ranging exam of influential works written--in complete or in part--while their authors have been in felony or exile"--
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Extra resources for Great books written in prison : essays on classic works from Plato to Martin Luther King, Jr
The other authors were kept in conditions that ranged from austere but safe, to horrendous—where they were subject to torture and execution. Historically speaking, no country, people, or system can claim to be innocent of the abuse of its power to imprison or execute for political gain. This makes Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison,” all the more imposing. Thoreau’s essay Resistance to Civil Government is one of the most famous and influential pieces written on how a citizen should respond to the immoral or unjust laws and actions of their own government.
By contrast, in his Apology, Plato masterfully recreates the tone of Socrates’ confrontation of unjust charges before an unjust court; this is a portrayal of a man who is anything but common. Plato pays tribute here to a man who was “among the living what Homer says Teiresias was among the dead—‘He alone has comprehension; the rest are flitting shades’” (Plato, Meno 100). In Plato’s portrayal, Socrates defense is anything but that—on the contrary, it is presented as his highest statement of self-justification: it is a countersuit.
He was well acquainted with the aggressive actions of the state to persecute political activity. Even though it is a story of unjust state persecution, Oscar Wilde’s experience—his imprisonment and writing of De Profundis—was different from that of many of the authors in this book. His crime was not political; it was social. Conversely, Sir Thomas Malory was held in the Tower of London—where he wrote Le Morte Darthur during the last two years of his life—because of the political alignments he chose in the War of the Roses.