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Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City Paperback – September 8, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press/Regional (September 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472034367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472034369
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hoping to do research on community reintegration of youth who have served time in juvenile detention, Bergmann worked as an unpaid intern with a juvenile detention facility. But after listening to the youth talk about the circumstances that brought them to the facility, he ventured out into their world of street drug trafficking in Detroit. He learned that drug dealing governed the lives of the young black men he met, providing structure and income and teaching them about power and capitalism, even life and death. Living in a west side neighborhood devastated by the riots of 1967, Bergmann was able to penetrate the world of young men who talked about “getting ghost,” or drifting in and out of the drug trade. He chronicles the drug trading, the risks and rewards, and the demarcations between the city and suburbs even as he witnessed suburbanites come into the city to buy drugs. Bergmann puts the lives of the young men he met in the broader context of changes in American cities and the economy since the 1960s and the hypersegregation of many poor black neighborhoods. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


What a terrific book. Getting Ghost reminds us that the Rustbelt is still a place to find America—and the American dream. Luke Bergmann sometimes risks life and limb to bring us first-hand the lives of young people who mainstream media and academic research have ignored—except for the occasional crime story or impersonal policy brief. Getting Ghost is a journey worth taking, though you may want to grab hold along the way. It sets a new standard for documentary reportage. —Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day and Off the Books

In prose that is equally eloquent and enlightening, Luke Bergmann brings to surface the lives of two young men living in a place that is regarded by too many people as a forgotten city. Getting Ghost makes a profound intellectual statement—that one must account for the specificity of place, family and social relations, individual agency, and economy in order to understand the lifeworlds of young men who live in disadvantage while striving to take control of their lives. —Alford A. Young, Jr, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor, Sociology and Afro-American and African Studies, University of Michigan

This sensitive and brave book takes readers into the tragedy of deindustrialization and ethnic discrimination in America to reveal the lives of those trapped in the illegal drug economy. Bergmann forces us to face the contradictions of drugs, discrimination, and poverty in our heartland. —Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect

This is an eloquent, moving narrative account of the lives of Dude, Rodney, and other young men who trade drugs, love their family and friends, dream of ordinary lives, and navigate a maze of violence, detention, jail time, and early death in turn of millennium Detroit. Luke whose vivid, gritty, dialogic writing serves as a model for us all. —Susan Harding, author of The Book of Jerry Falwell

parachute into bombed-out urban districts and write movingly of the ills they discover, but quite another for Bergmann to note about one of his adolescent subjects that the boy was locked up for possibly shooting someone on a corner personal engagement that gives such resonance to his account of several years spent monitoring the lives of two teenage drug dealers....

Not just illustrative and emotive, this pummeling, immersive social text is grounded in street-level reportage and seeded with wisdom.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By EP on April 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this touching book for a class, and then was able to meet and talk with the author, Dr. Luke Bergmann. His book reads the same way he speaks, in a thoughtful, somewhat tangential manner, with everything coming together in the end.

The stories are complex, painful, hopeful, and continuing. (He is still an integral part of the lives of the characters he writes about.) The stark reality of what he writes is the strength of this book, which I recommend to anyone who wants a closer look at the city of Detroit or the condition of its residents. Not an easy read in parts, Bergmann creates a world for his reader that is irrestible. You fall in love with his characters, you feel their pain, and you feel torn and confused along with them. Knowing that Bergmann felt that first hand, and still feels that conflict today, makes the book a testimony to writing a heartfelt book, if nothing else, to raise awareness of the state of the city, and the people of, Detroit.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MI Bookworm on March 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished the book after hearing the author being interviewed on our local NPR station a few weeks ago. I highly recommend it.

You can read the 'professional' reviews to find out what this is about, but I want to mention that the author mixes a lot of interesting facts in the form of footnotes into this book. These appear to be well researched and often provide social, cultural, and historical background to the two stories being told.

While I live in the Metro Detroit area, I do not believe that the stories told here are unique to Detroit. Something similar to this could happen in any big city throughout this country, and therefore the stories told here should be of interest not just to those of us that are familiar with this area.

Again, I highly recommend this book, I thought it was a fascinating piece of non-fiction. Immediately after finishing the book, I looked to see if there was any follow-up on the stories told in the book on the web, but was not able to find any (yet?). So Luke Bergman, if you read this, please let me know if you have stayed in touch with some of the people in the stories, and what may have happened to them (trying to word this to not give anything away).
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By stoic VINE VOICE on January 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Getting Ghost is Luke Bergmann's account of the lives of some of Detroit's poorest citizens. There have been many books on the urban poor; but Bergmann's research is different in that he moved into Detroit's ghetto, then befriended two juvenile delinquent drug dealers - Dude Freeman and Rodney Phelps. Bergmann's access to the these young men allows him to paint an intimate picture of life on Detroit's meanest streets.

Each young man's family helplessly watches as it loses him to drug dealing. Dude, Rodney, and their friends do not regard dealing drugs as shameful - instead, it's just a way to make money. For all of the risks they take in dealing, the dealers have no idea what to do with the money that they make, so they blow it on big TVs, fast food, strip clubs, and prostitutes.

The day-to-day lives of the drug dealers will disturb most readers. In a striking scene, Rodney and his friends take over a restaurant on Detroit's west side. During the restaurant's business hours, the boys sell drugs from inside the business; the restaurant's owners watch them from behind bulletproof glass and try to ignore what is happening.

The book has some flaws. At times Bergmann is biased and uses the book as a soapbox for his political views. For instance, in one scene he describes a prosecutor - whom he obviously dislikes: "...she collected her papers and threw her briefcase over her shoulder with the impatience of a child needing to use a bathroom" (p. 193). Another problem is that Bergmann frequently kills the book's momentum by quoting scholars (such as Michel Foucault) whose work is likely to bore a general audience. Finally, Bergmann quotes many of the dealers' banal conversations. Reading expressions such as "know what I'm saying" and "you feel me" over and over gets tiresome in a hurry.

In short, while Getting Ghost is not perfect, it does teach readers about a violent, fascinating world. I recommend it.
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