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Memos from Purgatory


Ellison's nonfiction account of two months running with the Barons gang of Brooklyn in the mid-1950s was more direct and powerful than his fictional take on the same material (the novel Web of the City). So compelling was Memos, in fact, that the book became something of an underground classic as well as the basis for an episode of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" (with a little-known actor named James Caan playing the author).

Actually, the Barons tale takes up only a little more than half the book; the rest, subtitled "The Tombs," a chilling account of Ellison's stay in a New York City jail, is linked thematically if not narratively to the gang story (Ellison's jailhouse encounter with one of his old Barons buddies is an embellishment -- and a dishonest one -- added at the request of his publisher). A good read nonetheless.


  • New Introduction: Memo '75 (1975 edition)
  • Memo '69 (1969 and 1975 editions)
  • A Message from the Sponsor
  • Prologue
  • Book One: The Gang (nine chapters)
  • Transition
  • Book Two: The Tombs (seven chapters)
  • Conclusion

Regency paperback 1961 (first edition)

Powell paperback 1969

Pyramid paperback 1975

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