on March 31, 2000
this book took me back to an area i grew-up in and escaped from in my early 20s. I've known many persons such as the characters in this book. They are real and do exist unfortantly. I am now employed and daily working with the court system in Baltimore, Maryland where I grew up. I know that some of these characters lives have not changed for the better at least because i've seen them in court. I know that the areas are worse than before because I visit them to do home visits for my job, and I know that the police still perform as they did when the book was written, and Baltimore's crime rate remains the same. Sad as it is, ther are still no real solutions to the problem that the arthors wrote about, and the corners are still in existance, but the players, or shall I say victims are becoming younger everyday. The faces are new and the conditions are worse. The Corner, in my opinion is a powerful story. Unlike some readers, I at times had to but it down, collect myself, and then pick it up at a latter time. To be in it, but not of it was hard and always is. To see that someone else has taken the time to witness it and but it into story is heartwrenching. I know these characters, feel for them, cry for them, and each day I pray for them.
on November 5, 1999
I am a white suburban woman who began to read this book to learn about a life that is very different from my own and because I wanted to learn about the IV drug culture, having a cousin who shot drugs in NYC for 15 years. This book should be read by anyone who thinks that have the answer to the ills of the city, or education, or healthcare, or poverty or whatever. They will quickly see that the problems that plague our inner cities are much like trying to treat a cancer in the human body: you can't try and single out or isolate one specific problem area and try to fix it. You need to look at the entire system, taking into account the interconnectedness of these problems when you try and come up with a solution.
It is naive and utterly foolish to think that you can isolate the issues of the city and solve them independently- you can't. I urge anyone who has any influence over public policy of any kind to spend a few days and read this book. It will forever alter your view on how to "fix" the problems of neighborhoods like these and make you realize you are up against something that is much bigger than it appears. And policy makers: it is not as easy as as having a war on drugs. You need to start by bringing a thriving economic job base back into our cities so people have the opportunity to become meaningfully employed and can try and have a chance at life. When you strip away one's economic opportunities- you are cutting off their blood supply. It is just that simple. A MUST READ FOR ALL ELECTED OFFICIALS IN THE USA!
on May 2, 2000
The Corner is one of those stories that stops us out-to-save-the-world types in our tracks. What do you do with a situation like this? Police, politicians, charitable organizations, treatment centers, educators, and tireless optimistic reformers seem to be completely ineffective throughout the book. The book has its bright spots: when someone goes into rehab, when a long-term user leaves the corner for good, when one of the kids returns to school. But everyone knows, and the reader begins to have a sense, that the changes don't last long and tragedy will strike again, so why hope?
But the book is much more than a recounting of failed social programs and policing. The Corner is the story of real people with real desires and dreams. All have dreams beyond the corner, but none have a way to get there. Some have fallen from successful pasts, and some were born into the strange West Baltimore economy of buying, selling, and using. The authors looked closely enough to know that Gary was once a successful businessman, that Fran was once planning to attend college, that Blue is an accomplished artist. But to most of America, they are faceless drug addicts who should know better, who should clean themselves up and get out of there.
As the yearlong account unfolds, it is clear that getting "out of there" is not a realistic option. Few have any support system to speak of, and the government programs designed to help don't always-even if someone manages to navigate the endless bureaucracy. In the end, the corner triumphs in all but a few cases. The Corner is an eye-opening story that asks us to become aware of the people caught in situations like these in inner-city America. They are real people who have become completely detached from society at large, but they are still human beings. The book does not provide any answers, but it provokes thought as to what could possibly bring the people of every Fayette Street in every West Baltimore a glimmer of real hope.
"Empathy demands that we recognize ourselves in the faces at Mount and Fayette, that we acknowledge the addictive impulse as something more than simple lawlessness, that we begin to see the corner as the last refuge of the truly disowned." ---David Simon and Edward Burns
This is one of my top ten non-fiction books of all time. Here is why: First, it is well-written and intriguing. There is little to no academic jargon to wade through. It is a plain spoken book about the realities of inner-city life. It is not difficult to read in a literary sense, but certainly in an ethical and moral sense. This brings me to the second reason why I found it to be such an important book: It puts a face on the experiences of poor minorities living in urban areas. I'm 23 and I've been working in inner-city communities since I was 15. When I hear people talk disparagingly about minorities, inner-city youth, single moms, "welfare moms," my heart breaks, and in many ways, I am also angry that people talks so much about a life they know so little about. I found that this book accurately put a face on the people who are so often referred to as one statistics or another (related to drugs, single moms, incarceration, welfare). There was no glorification and little over-victimization of the people in the book and their experiences as poor, black, and affected by drugs and the underground economy. This book should be required reading for all Americans who wish to learn more about and develop informed opinions about poor, inner-city communities and the people who live there. I find it particularly relevant to those interested in drug laws and sentencing, as well as access to drug treatment. I think that this would also be a very helpful book for people who work in urban areas or are planning to someday (social work, education, ministry). The book leaves very big questions to be answered by the reader. How do I judge the people in this book? What would I do if I grew up in such a community? How do I go forth from here? A very powerful book.
Addition 12 years later: I am now a professor and currently using this book while I teach a class on citizenship and democracy and New York City. To professors that might consider using this for teaching, my students (from Kentucky) responded well to it. It didn't work miracles in terms of understanding, but I think it did a lot of the work for them that it did for me when I read this in my early 20s. It helped to put stories with statistics, and humanize the people that are easy to dismiss. Give them enough time to read it - one week isn't enough and I found it helpful to pair with shorter articles (like Emily Badger's work on how poverty taxes the brain) to help contextualize some of what they were reading about. Anyway, just thought I'd throw that in all these years later.
on November 21, 1998
"The Corner," by David Simon and Edward Burns, is one of the best books I've ever read.
Nothing I've seen or read humanizes inner-city drug fiends, pushers, gang members quite like this does. By gaining the trust of the people of Monroe and Fayette streets in West Baltimore, the authors were able to put the reader in their shoes, capture their thoughts, dreams, and histories.
Rather than glamorize drug use and gang violence as many books and movies do, it plainly shows the heartache experienced and the physical, emotional, and social barriers faced by people living in inner-cities.
So many judge themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to those living in the inner-cities of our country. Simon and Burns do a masterful job demonstrating people of inner-city neighborhoods, for the most part, are victims of circumstance and, given the same upbringing, the same surroundings, the same resistance, those outsiders who judge them harshly would live no differently.
Published in 1997, "The Corner" has received mostly glowing reviews. The few criticisms hurled its way usually center around a lack of solutions offered. Simon and Burns do not have the answers and don't pretend to.
Their book effectively argues society's "war on drugs" has not only failed miserably, but is actually a war on the underclass itself.
If a solution is to be reached in the upcoming century, it will be through a drastic change in attitude of the "haves" towards the "havenots." This book and others like it may go a long way towards changing opinions and ultimately sparking a solution. I challenge the Rush Limbaughheads out there to read "The Corner."
on April 8, 1999
The Corner was given to me by my fiance, who grew up two blocks from the actual 'corner'. Many of the individuals in the book were people he knew from childhood, grade school, the play grounds...I had the opportunity to ask many questions about people like Blue, Fat Curt, Gary, etc. These people became real to me and I was pulling for all of them to make it - to escape - to survive. My fiance left Baltimore for another life - but realizing that he grew up amidst the turmoil and temptation of The Corner - has given me a greater respect for him. He escaped - God help all of those who weren't so fortunate. I highly recommend this book to anyone - but especially to those who have never experienced the harsh reality of the inner city up close and personal. And once you read it, share it with a friend so everyone can come to realize how far this country has to come.
on April 23, 2007
Books don't get much more powerful or moving than this.
The premise is simple-- former Baltimore Sun reporter Simon (the driving force behind HBO's "The Wire" which takes place in the same area)and reporting partner Ed Burns (formerly employed by both the Baltimore City Police and the Baltimore school district) spent a year living on or around one of the busiest drug markets in Baltimore. They simply report what they see. In doing so, he they relate the stories of the people who inhabit this world: street pushers, kids trying (although often not that hard) to stay straight and the parents who worry about them, when they're not too busy trying to score their next fix. The stories are harrowing--from hardcore junkies who spend their days cashing in scrap metal for cash to earn their next fix to families sharing one small bedroom in a walk up shooting gallery. Pretty much everybody is hoping for a change in fortunes, but the book offers few happy endings. In spite of this, its a fascinating glimpse of a world where most of Simon's readers will never go.
The narrative is occasionally broken up by Simon and Burns' musings about the war on drugs. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, its hard to disagree with their belief that the war has failed, at least in this little corner of the world. There's a particularly powerful passage near the end where Simon and Burns flat out shatter the Horatio Alger myths that many middle-class suburbanites cling to, particularly the idea that should they find themselves in that situation, they'd simply apply a little Puritan gumption and work their way out their unfortunate circumstances. In the end, he doesn't offer any solutions and precious little hope.
Yet, the characters who populate the corner are more than mindless junkies. They're human, with hopes and dreams and stories to tell. Perhaps Simon's greatest achievement is the way in which he employs his sharp eye and powers of observation to paint a wholly three-dimensional and, given the circumstances, refreshingly non-judgmental picture of a community in deep decline.
In the end, its an amazingly powerful read, one that will leave readers deeply affected and likely having shed at least a couple of tears along the way.
on September 15, 2012
The copy of "The Corner" I ordered had been released from a library in Virginia because of, the red stamp in the front of the book read, "low demand." Therein lies a reflection of the tragedy at the heart of the book.
David Simon and Edward Burns portray a year in the life of a drug-ravaged West Baltimore neighborhood -- "the corner" -- represented primarily by Fayette and Monroe streets, the site of one of numerous open-air drug markets in the area. But "the corner" is also an entity, in Simons' and Burns' telling, a being that draws residents to it, demands their money and daily commitment and ultimately consumes them in their daily quest for a "blast."
A clutch of characters the two reporters followed live at the heart of this big, vital book. Fran Boyd and Gary McCullough, each addicts, are parents to DeAndre McCullough, a teenager slipping toward the corner. In the course of the year DeAndre fathers a child with 14-year-old Tyreeka Freamon, ultimately all but abandoning them. Various members of DeAndre's crew and "touts" for the dealers slide in and out of the narrative, many of them drifting toward death or prison.
There is also a moving portrayal of Ella Thompson, a stubborn organizer of community resources who struggles mightily to wrest the underlying humanity she still sees in her neighborhood to the surface.
Throughout the book the authors keep the reader teetering on a razor's edge of fear and very slim hope. The people who inhabit "The Corner" are damaged people. As a middle-class person I found myself disappointed and angry when DeAndre blows off a job for no good reason or Fran struggles bravely toward kicking her habit but falls back or the tout "Fat Curt," gravely ill, fails to adhere to the medical care he so desperately needs. And we wonder why Gary, one of many members of a solid, hardworking family and a man who had gained a large measure of success and security in his life slid into an abyss of addiction.
"The Corner" is not without a point of view on this subject. The book is an indictment of the futility of the war on drugs, the ineptitude of the public school system and the frankly uncaring attitude of governments at all level toward people they view as expendable in the grand scheme of American life.
This book is painstakingly detailed, a masterpiece of sociological observation, but it is not a old, clinical report of a crumbling neighborhood. The authors look at what they see clearly and unflinchingly and allow the voices of their subjects to shine through. Those voices may make you uncomfortable, they may make you angry, they may make you nod in agreement, they may make you laugh. They are always real, and the authors' connection to them is obvious.
I am afraid that books like the "Corner," which portray urban life in the early and mid-90s, will more than ever be consigned to dusty library corners or the shelves of private collections like my own. Listen to the rhetoric of the 2012 presidential race and it's clear how completely the descendants of the characters on "The Corner" have been marginalized. While we wring our hands about "the middle class," another class continues to struggle, as it has for years, outside our view.
I was grateful for the small ray of hope that emerged at the end of "The Corner." Grateful because it had to fight its way through so many layers of the sadness that is at the heart of this unforgettable book.
Having Not Only Read this Book but being in Enviroments such as this it's Something that A Larger Part OF Society refuses too Acknowledge.This Book Pulls No punches about The Surroundings.Drugs,Education&Healthy Living are Something that all People want&deserve.I got Mad Respect For HBO&Charles Dutton for Bringing this Powerful Book too the Eyes.it's Ashame when Folks say that's their Problem.it's not a One-Sided thing it's America's Problem.Their is No WAR ON DRUGS!it's a WAR on People that Become Addicted Too them.People Matter No Matter What.it's very SAD&Racist.for Folks want changes Read this Book&try too Understand the Depths OF Pain felt.People Need OPPURTUNITY NOT INSTITUTION.
on September 25, 2014
If depressing non-fiction is your thing, then this book is for you.
"The Corner" is kind of a 30 year sequel to the well received "Talley's Corner". The problem is, this current version of the urban street corner makes Talley's hangout seem downright utopia.
"The Corner" is an ambitious project that took several years to write. Roughly half the book is spent in the trenches, that is, on urban Baltimore's drug and poverty infested streets where drugs infiltrate every facet of life. One particular family is loosely followed over a number of years and, I guess, possible spoiler alert, nothing ends well for them. There is no happy ending, no salvation, no hope. On the slightest of bright sides, the concern, compassion, and empathy the writers feel for their subjects is apparent. But, as a famous person once said, or maybe I said it, what can one (or in this case two) person do? Trillions of dollars have been spent on improving our urban slums and the reality is that nothing works.
The other portion of the book is a detailed account of what historically happened or 'went wrong'. This portion of the book is a history of the failed infrastructure of decaying urban America. Different sections of the book critically examine the various structures that are supposed to support and enhance the lives of citizens: the police force, economic development, health care, public education, etc., etc. If this sounds familiar, well it is. This book, and its writers, provided the impetus for the wildly successful television show "The Wire".
Yes, I finished the book. And after reading the book I immersed myself in the television show. Ultimately though, I was left with a feeling that seldom occurs on my various reading endeavors.
A total absence of hope.