The name John Howard (1726-1790) is well-known as that of the man after whom the UK's oldest penal reform charity, the Howard League, is named. Tessa West's new book breaks fresh ground in looking at both Howard's immense legacy in terms of prison reform as well as his fascinating character and personal life. Based on extensive research it provides a vivid and intriguing picture of the man and his times which will be of interest to a wide range of readers interested in knowing what drove so singular a figure. John Howard's curiosity in prisons goes without saying, as his own writings show, including his iconic The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. As a self-appointed inspector of prisons - and in that sense the first to carry out such a task - Howard would knock on the door of penal establishments across the UK and in other countries - often unannounced or invited - where once inside he would observe, listen and make copious records of events behind prison walls. And he was a curious fellow altogether.
Amongst the diverse epithets applied to him are: extraordinary, indefatigable, restless, benevolent, solid, selfless, charismatic, eccentric, obsessive, energetic, modest and above all singular. Forever concerned with minutiae, not without friends but lacking close social contacts or time for admiration, the workaholic Howard frequently travelled alone and in dangerous places for months on end. Permanently on the move and forever retracing his steps, he was equally at home in Russia, Germany, Holland and other countries as he was when carrying out his carefully planned routines in Bedford, Warrington, Cambridge or London. A perfectionist with a huge personal reputation he brought his influence, genius and philanthropy to bear wherever he went.