Damnation Island

Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York
Narrated by: Pam Ward
Length: 10 hrs and 11 mins
4 out of 5 stars (161 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Today it is known as Roosevelt Island. In 1828, when New York City purchased this narrow, two-mile-long island in the East River, it was called Blackwell's Island. There, over the next hundred years, the city would build a lunatic asylum, prison, hospital, workhouse, and almshouse. 

Stacy Horn has crafted a compelling and chilling narrative told through the stories of the poor souls sent to Blackwell's, as well as the period's city officials, reformers, and journalists (including the famous Nellie Bly). Damnation Island re-creates what daily life was like on the island, what politics shaped it, and what constituted charity and therapy in the 19th century. Throughout the book, we return to the extraordinary Blackwell's missionary Reverend French, champion of the forgotten, as he ministers to these inmates, battles the bureaucratic mazes of the Corrections Department and a corrupt City Hall, testifies at salacious trials, and in his diary wonders about man's inhumanity to man. 

For history fans, and for anyone interested in the ways we care for the least fortunate among us, Damnation Island is an eye-opening look at a closed and secretive world. In a tale that is exceedingly relevant today, Horn shows us how far we've come - and how much work still remains.

©2018 Stacy Horn (P)2018 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great look at a dark piece of NYC history.

Fascinating but tragic subject. The book is smart and interesting, with a great narrator. Recommended for any NYC, crime and/or medical history buffs.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating!

This history of NY's Blackwell's Island will make your skin crawl! The narrator is excellent. All of the injustice, filth and cruelty that occurred there are brought to life. It's amazing how little things change over the years.

7 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Interesting Listen

I found this book very interesting, horrifying in many of its details. It was well written. My only qualm was that I found something annoying about the narrator's voice -- not enough to turn the book off, though. Overall, a good listen.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating

The book is fascinating in reviewing prisons, mental hospitals, and poor houses in the 1800's New York. The narrator while dry and old fashioned grew on me as the book went on.

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Solid Read

Loved that this took French's POV. Made the book more personal. If you like medical history or history this is worth your time.

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Good to know the past

The depressing part is just how much things haven't changed. Many of the shortcomings of the 19th century still hold true in the 21st century.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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couldn't get into it

I didn't make it past a few chapters. I was just bored and my mind kept wandering. Then I read some reviews saying that the first hundred pages were the best part...so I gave up.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Disappointed

I thought this was going to be stories about patients on the island like Typhoid Mary. It is a bleak history of the poor, mentally ill, and criminals in 19th century NYC.

1 person found this helpful

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GOOD BOOK IF YOU ARE DOING A HISTORY PAPER.

THIS BOOK IS VERY LONG AND SLOW. NOW ENTERTAINING. GREAT IF YOU ARE DOING A PAPER ON IT.

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Profile Image for PHILIP HARTY
  • PHILIP HARTY
  • 01-23-19

Really good but narration is off

Really good, interesting story. The only issue i had was the narration which is american. However its not enough to ruin anything and overall i enjoyed this book.