Cruel and Unusual
Political Science
Social Science

Cruel and Unusual

The Culture of Punishment in America

  • Anne-Marie Cusac


"This book is a bracing indictment of our culture's obsession with pain and revenge.  In chronicling the history and current reality of punishment in America, Anne-Marie Cusac exposes our collective loss of compassion to damning effect."—Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States

"Anne-Marie Cusac was there first, years ago, as a journalist tracking America's growing addiction to punishment and pain.  Now she describes how that obsession with brutality threatens our very ideals as a people, how the bearer of cruelty may be a victim of it as surely as its target.  Hers is a book as illuminating as it is terrifying."—William F. Schulz, former Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

"Anne-Marie Cusac’s Cruel and Unusual digs deeply into American history and culture to explain the extravagant cruelty of the punishments visited on criminal offenders. H. Rap Brown in the 1960s famously observed that 'violence is as American as apple pie.' So, says Cusac, is the gratuitous infliction of pain on wrongdoers. The black and white moralism of American Protestantism has given Americans an unusual ability to tolerate the sufferings of others, especially if those others have behaved immorally (as, by definition, most offenders have). Cusac has opened up a wide new field of exploration into the origins of American criminal law and punishment."—Michael Tonry, University of Minnesota

"Cusac illuminates the causal connections between culture and punishment, and her comparison of corporal punishment in the colonial era with contemporary practice yields powerful insights."—Amy Dru Stanley, University of Chicago

"Cusac's analysis should provoke a sense of deep concern: concern that contemporary punitiveness in America will damage our institutions, our political system, our culture."—Austin Sarat, Amherst College

"Excellent pieces of investigative journalism."--Peter Spierenburg, Journal of Social History