Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners

by Autumn Magro, For Beginners

“Dr. James Braxton Peterson’s Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners seamlessly patches together the complex development of the PIC, which is an overwhelming social and political force with many complicated causes and contributors.”

–Caitlin J. Taylor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, La Salle University, Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice

9781939994318America is the world’s leading nation when it comes to imprisonment, lodging a myriad of 2,000,000 inmates. This mass incarceration is a hot topic among activist critics reaching as far back as the early 1990s, and continues to crop up in contemporary discussions surrounding race discrimination, social ethics, and privatized institutions.

As an American citizen, it is important to be informed about the egregious contemporary civil rights violations entrenched in the past, current, and future history of the Prison Industrial Complex. In Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners, author and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University James Braxton Peterson does just that. Peterson boils down the PIC to its insidious core – a collection of social structures, systems, and policies – especially institutional racism, the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Together with illustrator John Jennings, Peterson distills these multi-layered components that make up what activists deem the Mass Incarceration Movement that has, and continues to imprison and dehumanize convicted individuals in the United States.

Historically, the “Law and Order” ideology that buttresses Peterson’s book does have some roots in the unrest that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. And as disconnected a concept this event may seem, America’s present carceral state has entrapped more black lives than any other point in history.  As University of Michigan Historian Heather Ann Thompson aptly claims, the mass incarceration’s origins are “deeply rooted in our nations racialized past, and as importantly, it is today but one part of a massive PIC that serves very specific interests, devastates communities, and therefore must be dismantled.”

Peterson also includes the “war on drugs” as yet another part of the PIC that has exacerbated the normalization of the mass incarceration of nonviolent substance abusers. The culture of rehabilitation for said individuals does more harm than good, as inmates suffer despotic conditions which often result in recidivism, or the rate at which released prisoners return to prison. Furthermore, since the privatization of the penal system in the 1970s, the management and ethics of law are now fueled by market forces. Essentially, corporations of the PIC now have incentive to capture human bodies for capital. Thus, explaining why America has the largest group of inmates in the entire world.

Peterson wants readers to not only understand the current state of the penal system in America, but also wants us to check our own perception of it. Even with the possibility of policy change, the nation must also be prepared to reform our views of criminal justice and incarceration. The idea that punishment lies at the heart of incarceration must be altered in order for widespread change to take place. And in response to the capitalistic motives behind the current PIC, we must also begin to view criminals as humans with basic intrinsic rights. Once we do this, liberation is not only plausible, but will help us work towards altering our status as the biggest incarcerator in the world.

With ingrained notions of institutional racism, privatization of prisons, and the subsequent monetization that make up the PIC, change is daunting. But James Braxton Peterson thoughtfully breaks down the complexity of the topic in the book, lending you a hand in understanding the direction we, as American citizens, must take to understand and potentially change the capital-hungry monster that has become the Prison Industrial Complex.

Read more about Prison Industrial Complex For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.

Mormonism For Beginners

by James Canfield, For Beginners

“Pithy, engaging, transparent, and accessible:  Mormonism For Beginners is all the things that outsiders think Mormonism isn’t. Jett Atwood’s clever illustrations provide the perfect complement to Stephen Carter’s sparkling prose.  Efficiently covering the bases from history to scripture to hot-button issues, this book will give you all you need to know to impress your Mormon friends.

—Patrick Q. Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies, Claremont Graduate University

9781939994523Written by Stephen Carter and illustrated by Jett Atwood, Mormonism For Beginners illuminates both a belief system and a way of life that were born in America but remain little understood to the present day. From the start, Carter lays down a clear foundation of themes and subjects to be covered in the book. He then brilliantly discusses every building block of Mormon belief, practice, history, and lifestyle in terms anyone can understand.

Together, Carter and Atwood present the Mormon faith and LDS Church with the knowledge of insiders but an honesty, objectivity, and sense of humor that well serve the uninitiated reader. Carter presents a succinct, lively history of Mormonism—how it came to be, and how its “organized spirit of cooperation” was the binding force that helped early members endure hardship and persecution, find a home, and settle into communal life. He also discusses LDS scripture, Mormon life and values (their emphasis on communalism, marriage and the family, the Church, and mission work). And finally, it offers candid, balanced discussions of such “hot-button” issues as race and the priesthood, the role of women, and LGBT life. Jett Atwood’s illustrations elevate the text while adding a humorous touch.

A Mormon himself, Stephen Carter takes us on an informative and historical journey, explaining along the way how Mormonism became viewed as not only a religion, but also as a subculture. The entire faith revolves around the teachings of Jesus Christ and emphasizes the importance of following in his footsteps. Mormons commonly serve on missions where they share the word of the gospel as a means of showing and spreading their love for fellow people as well as for their lord and savior.

In the foreword, American writer and editor Jana Riess writes: “Mormonism is everywhere, but reliable information about the religion and its people can be hard to find. Some accounts produced by the LDS Church are glowing propaganda, while some written by outsiders or ex-Mormons are sensationalistic diatribes aimed at discrediting the Mormon faith.” However, “the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is why you need this book. It joins a growing body of literature about Mormonism that aims to educate you—not to convert (or deconvert) you from what you already believe.”

It may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around Mormonism, however, Carter is able to lead the reader through the typical daily life of a majority of Mormons. There we are able to see the finite aspects of this religion and how they govern daily life. For instance, the Word of Wisdom is a strict dietary code that prohibits the consumption of both coffee and alcohol. Mormonism is a tiny, far-flung community compared with other religious groups, but also it’s a close, tight-knit community with a strong a sense of belonging as well as highly structured beliefs, values, and traditions. While most followers of the LDS Church and The Book of Mormon deviate little from set ways, change has been inevitable and will continue to be. How much and in what ways will Mormonism adapt to changing social mores and the needs of each new generation? Only the future will tell. Mormonsim For Beginners will be a valuable guide for anyone following the story.

Read more about Mormonism For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.

Proust For Beginners

by James Canfield, For Beginners

“Compelling in critical insight and artistic vision, Proust For Beginners brings to life a modern master, the “Proustian moments” at the heart of his work, and their relevance to our own everyday lives.”

William C. Carter, author of Marcel Proust: A Life and editor of


Written by Steve Bachmann and illustrated by Van Howell, Proust For Beginners dives head first into the time and life of French novelist Marcel Proust, author of the modernist classic In Search of Lost Time. Proust was an author who was extremely different than his predecessors, both in terms of style and content. He supposedly cared less about the actual plot and subsequent action, and more about adding richness and complexity. Proust’s words flowed eloquently onto the page, including both of these qualities, while at the same time filling each sentence with both personal and cultural allusions. Many might find it difficult to understand and interpret the works of Marcel Proust, which is attributed to his innate desire to defy the conventional ‘standard punctuation.’

According to Bachmann, “In order to understand Proust and his work, it is best to start with an account of his life.” During his formative years, which occurred during the chaos of nineteenth century Europe, Proust was consistently in and out of the hospital, which was due to his severe asthma. As life progressed and time went on, Marcel Proust came to find himself engaged in a homosexual affair with Alfred Agostelli. Their relationship, unfortunately, was not destined for eternity, as Alfred tragically passed away when the plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Antibes. The twentieth century rolled around the corner, bringing with it a new glimmer of hope. This too, however, was suddenly cut short. The passing of his father in 1903, as well as his mother 1905 brought great depression onto Marcel Proust. He began to recede into his own cocoon of existence, eventually completely withdrawing from society. This left him with the intense desire to write about themes such as memory loss and separation anxiety.

Climbing Mount Proust is not a challenge to be taken lightheartedly. This lucid biography and essential reading guide peels away the layers from one of the most difficult yet widely taught works of French Literature. Marcel Proust’s 1913 publication of Swann’s Way is synonymous with his life and who he was. When beginning this particular piece of literature, Marcel was torn between wanting to write about either a fictional account or rather something that was philosophical, based around his interests and hobbies. Proust considered such a decision to be quite substantial in its nature, and simply left it to reverberate within his mind. Unable to form a coherent decision within himself, Proust ultimately settled upon both concepts, causing a constant divergence from theme to theme. Additionally, it was not uncommon for him to even include instances where a single one of his sentences would be comprised of 958 individual words. And, Bachmann points out that the art of crafting such writing was only just one of the many languages in which Marcel Proust was fluent in.

Van Howell‘s dazzling collection of cartoons, caricatures, and artistic renderings perfectly portray Proust, his milieu, the people in his life, and the vast realms of his literary imagination. The illustrations boldly stand up on every page, providing a thoroughly detailed, and certainly exclusive, sneak peek inside the conscious of one of the twentieth century’s prestigious and highly acclaimed writers. Bachmann and Howell’s combined work of graphic non-fiction will pull you in like you would never expect. Unravel this time period and experience it for yourself through the eyes of the one and only, Marcel Proust.

Read more about Proust For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.

Libertarianism For Beginners

by James Canfield, For Beginners

Seavey provides a thorough and easy to read explanation of libertarianism and its history. Full of examples and nuance, the book offers a balanced context for understanding this philosophy.

Ann Lee, NYU Stern School of Business professor

9781939994660Chapter one of Libertarianism For Beginners opens up by defining a Libertarian as being both socially liberal, “not wanting the government to interfere in their personal behavior,” and fiscally conservative, wanting low taxes, low government spending, and few regulations.” It’s hard to imagine why anyone would believe in anything other than Libertarianism, right? If you agree, the first page of this book is bound to surprise you. According to the Libertarian Cato Institute, approximately 5% or less of the population actually consider themselves to be Libertarians.

It is a common misbelief that our government, the one we entrust virtually everything to, is in fact operating with the citizens’ best interest in the forefront of their mind. Instead, they focus on our nation as a whole, accepting a certain degree of upset amongst the citizens as ‘acceptable.’ Our modern day society has become ever-so dependent on such a diverse portfolio of political philosophies. All of which, attempt to view the government in a light of the individual’s choosing, one that best suits their daily routine. Todd Seavey, in his book Libertarianism For Beginners, states that humans have since developed a wide swath of competing conceptions about the so-called good life and how to achieve it. No two views, however, would be the same.

It was not until the twenty-first century, really, that a large number of individuals began to self-advocate towards a new way of thinking. Placing a strong emphasis on both individual and property rights, as Seavey states, Libertarianism is one such philosophy that supports the shrinking of government. Libertarians heavily endorse the concept of political freedom, which falls under the United States’ first amendment towards freedom of the press. They need not worry about who is actually in charge of the government, because instead, they are rather concerned about whether or not we need a government at all. As shown in an illustration by Nathan Smith, the law should intrude into people’s lives as little as possible. We the people have the right to be the judges and jurors for ourselves.

In life we are truly on our own. We dress, feed, and take care of ourselves as we see fit. Every day we must choose between option A and option B, each resulting in an entirely opposite outcome, as well as permanently changing the future course of events. We are therefore forced to ask ourselves; why then, would we need an outside governing force to dictate what it is we do?

Libertarianism For Beginners, Todd Seavey seamlessly takes you on a journey inside the mind of an everyday libertarian. Through the humorously depicted illustrations of Nathan Smith, he is able to bring the world of libertarianism to life, right in the palm of your hand. Every stop you make will visit yet another unique thought, opinion, or point of view, and each page you turn will only draw you further in.

Read more about Libertarianism For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.

Civil Rights For Beginners

by Stephanie Gonclaves, For Beginners

9781934389898Civil Rights For Beginners covers historical events from the mid- 1950s to the present, focusing on the oppression and segregation of African Americans. The astonishing stories of well-known civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, are discussed, but you will also learn of other less well-known names such as Joseph Cinque, Nat Turner, and many others.

1839, Joseph Cinque a young African torn apart from his family was captured and placed on a ship with 53 other Africans. Cinque led the slaves in a revolt to gain control of the Spanish slave ship Amistad….The Niagara Movement, the protest against the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation. The “Red Summer” riots and so many more are events that are examined in Civil Rights For Beginners. Take a journey that starts pre-Civil War, up to current events; allowing you to become educated on the lesser known actions of groups and individuals that brought Americans closer to a successful movement towards civil rights.

Civil Rights For Beginners also examines the significant events within the civil rights movement such as: Brown V. Education, Emmett Till, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. From the well-known to the forgotten events, they are uniquely displayed within this book, which spectacularly conveys the struggle and the conquest of the civil rights movement. Allow this book to leave you more knowledgeable on this triumphant historical chain of events that changed American history forever.

Read more about Civil Rights For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.

Black Panthers For Beginners

by Stephanie Goncalves, For Beginners

978193999439450 years ago at Merritt Junior College in Oakland, California two students named Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale expressed their detestation for the United States Government, and just like that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was born. This compelling piece of literature captivates the struggles and discouragement that the young African American population felt with the civil rights movement, and their “out-of-touch old leaders who still counseled moderation and nonviolence after all those years of useless promises.”

Black Panthers For Beginners is interesting and exciting, and a compelling view into a major political revolution. Intriguing events such as the publishing of the BPP first mimeographed newsletter, the call to action to the American people at the Capitol Building, Huey Newton being charged with first-degree murder, creating the “Free Huey” movement, Free Breakfast for School Children Program, and many more historic events.

The Black Panthers outlined a Ten Point Program, number seven was “We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.” This point brings us to current events such as the Ferguson riots, the Baltimore Protests, the killing of Michael Brown, and the killing of Freddie Gray. The justice that the Panthers searched for is still heavily present and continues to be demanded in today’s society.

After reading this book and absorbing the history of the Panthers, readers will be able to effortlessly tie it to current events such as #BlackLivesMatter, and most recently, the Federal lawsuit against the city of Ferguson in the name of justice.

Read more about Black Panthers For Beginners and visit the For Beginners website to learn more about their titles.