Much as I love the damn thing when the A is capitalized, the most potent words I read this past year weren’t even lowercase art. They were more like a truth-seeking missile, one that seethed with indignant if wholly justified outrage. Imagine a country that never tires of self-identifying as the land of the free yet is actually the undisputed global leader in incarcerating its own citizens. Now imagine that this country’s program of almost-militaristic mass incarceration is being deployed in a racially discriminatory manner and almost exclusively against those who are already pathetically marginalized; and all the while almost no one with a platform or power can be bothered to utter a dissenting syllable, so entranced are they by what insulates them. If that seems too grim an imagining to engage in, then just pick up The New Jim Crow by the equal parts brilliant and courageous Michelle Alexander. With the kind of meticulous empirical support such a title demands, Professor Alexander sets out what must become the new template for thinking productively about American criminal justice. I say must because no entity that silently countenances the fact that “[a] human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch,” can ever truly cohere. So read it. Now. But be forewarned that you may thereafter have trouble getting too worked up by the usual filler whereby a liberal arts college professor finds himself attracted to a comely grad student or Upper West Side locavores debate how to best staff their food co-op. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.