Reviewed: The Corner

Review of The Corner, by David Simon and Edward Burns, Read Disclosure.

Cities like Baltimore – with serious drug and gang problems – generate horrifying statistics. Drug related deaths, highschool drop out rates, homicide rates, homicide clearance rates… These cities chug along, spewing data like a severed carotid artery spurts blood.

Sometimes, the news media get the story right. Often, not. Which is why police reporter David Simon took some time off from his newspaper job to tackle the kind of project that can’t fit into the neat columns of a newspaper.

In The Corner, Simon and Burns manage to freeze the data and make people out of statistics. The police reporter and cop-turned-teacher – both white guys – spent a year getting to know the kids on one Baltimore corner. This book is the story of what those kids did in that year, told with impressive detail and very readable prose.

The book is well-reported, with exquisite detail and insightful asides. One passage that steps back from the narrative to discuss Caribbean parenting practices comes to mind. Having said that, this is not a gentle tale. There are some scenes that I wish I could un-read and that will turn many readers off, like where the reader finds out how one of the kids brutally killed a cat. While that’s the only anecdote I recall where an animal is hurt, the toll on people in this harsh, but strangely optimistic book is heavy.

If Simon’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he and Burns later teamed up with a bunch of great writers and actors to create HBO’s critically acclaimed tv show The Wire. Fans of the show will recognize the corners of Baltimore here.

Personally, I enjoyed The Corner as much as you can enjoy something like this. The depth of detail exceeded – on an emotional, on-the-ground level – the understanding available in most research I’ve encountered. There were actually points were I felt like I understood what was going on, even though I probably can’t ever.

Who Should Pick Up a Copy

There are many people who might like this book. The following come to mind:

  • All students of sociology, criminology, and related topics.
  • All crime reporters.
  • Anyone who wants to get an idea what the drug war does to the people on the ground.

If you’ve read it, help your fellow readers out by letting us know what you thought. If you haven’t, I’d love to hear whether or not you think you might want to.

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