1. Don Quixote: This book was written in two parts in Spain in the 1600’s. After serving in the army and being wounded, Miguel de Cervantes returned home and was unable to find work. As a result, he was sent to debtor’s prison where he wrote most of his works, including “Don Quixote,” as well as other stories, poems, and plays. Read the literary masterpiece for free from Google Books.
2. The Essential Gandhi: Mahatma Gandhi was a peaceful Indian revolutionary who preached passive resistance and strongly believed in non-violence. For his actions, he was imprisoned several times, where he was known to go on hunger strikes in support of his cause. This book contains his teachings in his own words on civil disobedience, non-violence, freedom, communism, and even how to enjoy prison.
3. Long Walk to Freedom: For striving for equality in South Africa, Nelson Mandela and his friends were imprisoned. After a 27 year sentence, he published this autobiography, much of which was written secretly while in prison. The book details his early life, adulthood, education, time in prison, and rise to power.
4. Writings of St. Paul: After Jesus’s death, his apostles scattered to teach his word, as well as avoid prison. Paul of Tarsus, also known as Saint Paul, is thought to have been arrested and imprisoned on more than one occasion and may have even been executed for preaching Christianity. The “Writings of Saint Paul” contain his letters and teachings. In fact, the Vatican recently released findings on how he died, along with his tomb which is still housed in the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome.
5. Letters and Papers from Prison: If you know who Adolf Hitler is, it is also important to know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was. During Nazi Germany, he was a participant in the German resistance movement and a church leader. In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed two years later. These and other works remain influential in the role against tyranny and genocide. This book can also be read for free on the link above.
6. De Profundis: Oscar Wilde was an influential poet who lived in the late 1800’s. After publishing works such as “The Importance of Being Earnest,” he was arrested for indecency with other men and sentenced to two years hard labor. During this time, he wrote “De Profundis,” a letter to his then lover which would be known today as a “Dear John” letter. However, for its haunting words and lyricism, this is one of the most famous works that was written in prison.
7. The Pisan Cantos: Before Jane Fonda and American Al-Qaeda operatives, there was Ezra K. Pound. In 1943, he began broadcasting against Allied forces in World War II, as well as including anti-sematic and incendiary comments. He was later imprisoned in a military detention center where he suffered a breakdown. However, he was able to complete “The Pisan Cantos,” one of the first works of modern and imagism poetry. It would later go onto to win an American prize in poetry and become one of the ten most famous books written in prison.
8. Letter From Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most influential civil rights leaders in modern times. After planning a non-violent protest against racial segregation with the help of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, he was arrested and imprisoned. What followed was a letter written from the prison on April 16, 1963. The letter is available to read with a click and includes the historic phrase, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
9. Pilgrim’s Progress: Not as well known today, this was one of the most famous books written in prison. John Bunyan was from England, where he was part of the Reformed Baptist movement. Initially arrested for a few months for preaching without a license, his sentence was extended to nearly twelve years for refusing to stop preaching. During these years, he wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress,” which chronicles the progress of the Christian everyman from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
10. In the Belly of the Beast: Whether or not Jack Henry Abbot was guilty of the murder that sent him to jail isn’t why the book is famous. It is noted because of his correspondence with proficient writer Norman Mailer, which eventually led to his release. The book hauntingly recounts a 25 year prison stay, what that is like, and what imprisonment can do to a person’s mental state.