Michael Herrick's blog

The Big House, by Stephen Cox

I picked up The Big House by Stephen Cox after running across an interesting article by the same author. The biggest eye-openers for me came in the very first pages where the author recounts how people used to tour prisons. It was formerly not uncommon for people to take sightseeing trips to prisons in the same way, and for similar reasons, that they today visit the Washington Monument or the Golden Gate Bridge.

The New Mexico Corrections Department has started hosting tours of Old Main, the state penitentiary that was the site in 1980 of one of the deadliest prison riots in US history, referenced in The Big House. Tours are booked through 2012 (perhaps charging an admission fee could regulate some scarcity there) but I hope we can sign up soon for a 2013 tour.

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

The Amazon blurb for The Big House:

“The Big House” is America’s idea of the prison—­a huge, tough, ostentatiously oppressive pile of rock, bristling with rules and punishments, overwhelming in size and the intent to intimidate. Stephen Cox tells the story of the American prison—its politics, its sex, its violence, its inability to control itself—and its idealization in American popular culture. This book investigates both the popular images of prison and the realities behind them­: problems of control and discipline, maintenance and reform, power and sexuality. It conveys an awareness of the limits of human and institutional power, and of the symbolic and iconic qualities the “Big House” has attained in America’s understanding of itself.

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

I pre-ordered this book on Amazon after reading a fascinating article by the same author, How Companies Learn Your Secrets.

The article tells how retailers use neuroscience, psychology and statistics to identify times in shoppers lives when they are most open to changing their shopping habits. The case study is how Target was able to find out about a teen shopper’s pregnancy before her family did.

Amusingly, the finding of unguarded secrets is itself a secret the company guards pretty closely.

But the interesting statistics work was only a side story to the author’s research into the science and technology of habit. A bit of that makes it into the article, and the full book promises to be very interesting. Amazon blurb after the jump.

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