Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a senior fellow at Demos and a writer on social justice issues. His latest book is The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.

Recent Articles

Fear and Loathing in Middle America

A new book in the Gonzo journalism vein tries to explain to coastal elites what they've never understood about the working-class small towns in the middle of the country.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War by Joe Bageant (Crown, 288 pages) - - - Every so often, you pick up a book and two pages in your nose is glued to it. Not necessarily because of the subject matter per se -- though good subject matter certainly helps -- but because the prose is so damned electric. Usually, I've found, when it comes to reportage like this, the book's author has a single name: Hunter S. Thompson. Recently, though, I've added another name to my stuck-nose lexicon, having been utterly ensnared by Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus . Bageant grew up in a fundamentalist Christian, ultra-working-class family in a claustrophobic little Virginia town named Winchester. Then, in his own terminology, he made his escape. He moved west and made a pretty decent career for himself in the world of journalism. A few years ago, though, he felt a craving for his childhood home and, now deep into middle-age, decided to relocate once more. So the self-...

The Democracy of Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 576 pages) Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a promise a long time coming. In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group of students were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners. The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as prison superintendant), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do...

The Democracy of Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Random House, 576 pages) Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is a promise a long time coming. In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners. The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as warden), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do press ups while others sat...

Prison State

Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Gilmore (University of California Press, 412 pages) For those involved in studying critically the U.S. criminal justice system, Ruth Gilmore's Golden Gulag has been a promise long-delayed. The book has been talked about, in often reverential tones, for many years now. After all, in addition to being a first-rank scholar -- Gilmore is a geography professor at USC and director of the university's American Studies and Ethnicity program -- the author is also one of the country's leading anti-prison activists. Who better than her, therefore, to answer two fundamental questions: Why did California build only 12 prisons in the first century-plus of its existence as a state, and 23 more prisons in the decades after 1984? And why did the state's political leadership and electorate support an expansion of corrections expenditures from two percent of the state's general fund in the 1970s to over eight...

Bashing Goliath

Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America by Andrei S. Markovits (Princeton University Press, 302 pages) I feel, having just read Andrei Markovits's Uncouth Nation , a profound satisfaction. It's not that Markovits is a great stylist; he's assuredly not. His sentences are sometimes maddeningly convoluted, and the book itself is poorly organized, with many key examples illustrating his arguments buried deep within the text. Nor is it that I agree with all of his arguments, though I do find most of them compelling. No, the satisfaction comes from seeing someone on the progressive side of the political spectrum actually marshalling the evidence to point out that, while Bush is indeed bad, much of Europe has gone more than just a little loco when it comes to discussing America. Visit Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam or Athens today, talk with leading intellectuals and commentators from all the many different sides of the continent's fractious political discourse, listen in to...

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