• Damnation Island

  • Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York
  • By: Stacy Horn
  • Narrated by: Pam Ward
  • Length: 10 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (389 ratings)

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Damnation Island  By  cover art

Damnation Island

By: Stacy Horn
Narrated by: Pam Ward
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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

What listeners say about Damnation Island

Average customer ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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13 people found this helpful

  • 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.

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12 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

so depressing and boring

I felt like this book wanted something from me, but I'm not sure what. it was repulsive and depressing and I dont even care what happens next bc it's so painful.

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8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Maybe better as a non audio book

The narrator has a bit of an above you lecturing tone or a just telling the facts without emotion or trying to. Whatever it is it is off putting.
I did listen to the whole book. It is at times a bit hard to follow. It certainly makes you feel for the unwitting victims
I think a different narrator would have made it more pleasant and interesting to listen to.

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7 people found this helpful

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

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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6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Research combined with human stories

The research done to write this book must have taken years. Woven throughout the facts are the life stories of many different individuals who either suffered here, tortured here or tried to help here on Blackwell Island. This book leaves the reader wondering how far have we really come in separating our view of criminals and the poor. Or criminals and the mentally ill. And what can be done? I think this history makes a clear case that government oversight of the poor and mentally ill and even criminality have not worked due to political corruption and the implementation of institutions. Institutions, by definition, do not see the individual. These problems from the 1800’s are still plaguing our society today. Thought provoking and well written

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

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5 people found this helpful

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

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.

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4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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What a past.. where's the future!

I live close enough to have visited Roosevelt Island a couple times in years past. I remember laughing with friends that we had walked the entire island TWICE with little effort on the very first visit. The 'Ruins' and the lighthouse remain - but learning about all the institutions and souls that lived there.... I can barely fathom the overload and the lives that were so tragically affected within sight of our amazing City. My thoughts and prays now include the crushed souls and the abuse they endured. May their spirits find rest now that some stories have been brought to light; may we never forget the price others paid at the hands of those who turned their blind eyes away.

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

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.

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3 people found this helpful