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on 5 July 2009
In this magnificent, addictively readable book David Simon and Ed Burns take the time to document the lives of a small group of drug addicts and dealers living in a desolate Baltimore neighbourhood. In doing so they have created an important and moving book, and given a human face to a group of impoverished, forgotten people with almost no prospects, destined otherwise to become nothing more than anonymous statistics. It's a worthy enough project, but the authors have created a work that is not only a document and a testament to a time, place and social ill, but a slick and entertaining book in its own right.

The pace of the book is slower, and The Corner is less compelling than Simon's masterful "Homicide," lacking as it does the "whodunnit" elements, but this book is no less worthy of praise.

Simon and Burns strike a near-perfect balance here between the minutiae of the lives of the addicts and their families - the petty crime, the designer clothes, the packages, the basketball games - and the wider subjects which explore how and why this forgotten underclass came to be - the "war on drugs," immigration, unemployment and the mentality and economy of the drug trade. It's a huge book at over 550 pages long, but it is never overly weighty or preachy. Simon and Burns view their subject from all angles, illuminating it in three dimensions, moving in the space of a page from a close up of a desperate junkie tearing copper piping from a basement, to an authoratitive exploration of the migration of the Black population from Carolina and Virginia, the racial tensions that arose and the impact of WW2 on the poor communities of Baltimore. With several years of research under their belts, most of it on the corner that gives the book its title, the authors can be trusted completely.

Anyone who has enjoyed The Wire, The Corner or Homicide will find plenty to recognise and enjoy. As with other Simon projects you cannot help but feel for almost all the characters here, usually despite their actions. These are human beings, and there isn't an easy judgement or caricature in sight. A feeling of helplessness permeates all the lives presented here as one sad generation retreads the steps of the last, and the somewhat depressing afterword offers little evidence of any of the youngsters in the book managing to climb free of their surroundings. This is reality. The story of Gary McCullough, the contradictory but immensely likeable standout of all those featured here, is particularly heartbreaking.

Simon and Burns don't have the answers but they've done more than most to blow open the pain and hoplessness of the drug trade and the impact it has on everyone it touches. This is an important, informative and enjoyable book that deserves to be widely read, and after completing both Homicide and The Corner I would now consider anything written by Simon to be a must read. His name is a byword for honesty, bravery and writing of the highest calibre. Lets hope another book is somewhere on the horizon.
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on 8 June 2005
A remarkable work of journalism, even exceeding Simon's more famous work 'Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets'.
The reader is taken into a world few of us would dare approach as outsiders but almost immediately we are empathising with most of the characters.

This book is a terrible endictment of inner cities throughout the world, but especially in America. Aspirations are crushed by the surrounding apathy and good intentions drowned by the endless supply of readily available, highly addictive cheap drugs. The complete breakdown of the education system and any sort of meaningful law and order, described and explained by Simon in horrific detail, show that the next generation(s) are doomed to follow the old as avenues of escape are all but cut off.

Yet even among the gun toting teenage gangs, the adolescent mothers and their long term addicted parents and grand-parents we recognise people with potential, those with gentle and friendly natures, those with a wonderful sense of humour, simple people, lazy people, hard-working people - in short, every day characters and personalities we all recognise. But society has failed them, utterly broken down and failed them dismally.
There, but for an accident of birth, goes every one of us.

There are those who continue to care, continue to work to try and bring some sort of meaning to life in the ghetto. Some are saints who, at least for a time, refuse to give up on a cause so lost it is bewildering, while others are just not prepared to recognise the hoplessness into which their own neighborhood has descended.

More than anything this book is a slap in the face for those who say 'I would never let it happen to me, I'd find a way to better myself'. If we're honest with ourselves, if we think back to what influenced us as children - our role models, our peers, our parents, the level of expectation for our future generated by our surroundings - how many of us can truthfully say we could fight our way out of such a situation?

Simon isn't offering solutions, but he does show us why those attempted so far have failed before they even started. However, this book allows us to begin to understand the true nature of the problem and only by first understanding can we hope that one day, perhaps, there may be a solution.
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on 18 May 2009
A masterpiece.Although the events in this book took place in 1993 they are just as relevent to todays society especially in the United kingdom. How the drugs scene in Baltimore started and how it destroyed large parts of the city are explained ,as well as the total failure to deal with it by the authorities,this book reflects what is happening in many decaying urban areas in the U.K today and that the authorities continue to make the same mistakes as were made in Baltimore 16 plus years ago.
Any politician worth his salt should read this book(as long as he pays for it himself and does not claim it on expenses!) .Simon and Burn do not provide the answers to the problems but provide a downright depressing insight into them,however the book is written with compassion and insight and at times humour.At no time do the authors demonise nor make judgement on those involved. As someone working with in the criminal justice system and who can be no way classed as a "bleeding heart liberal" i found this to be a truely brilliant book!
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on 8 April 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.
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on 4 August 2009
It'll soon be nearly two decades since the events of The Corner were first catalogued. And it's just as relevant today as it was back then. The authors' analyses of the street level view of drugs is just as true today. Which is quite depressing. Politicians may hold this book up on the stump to get elected, but as the authors state...they hadn't read it and so didn't understand it.

It will also make you go back and watch The Wire again (if you have already seen it) to see what the real life Deandre McCullough looks like. That took me by surprise (he played the bit part of Lamar, Brother Mouzone's heavy) - he looked bigger and gentler to me in his 30s than I imagined he would have been in his mid-teens.

Brilliant. Utterly brilliant book.
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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2009
I came to this having enjoyed The Wire and been enthralled by Homicide. Nothing really prepares you for The Corner though.

This is a story about the people left behind by their nation. A year on the streets of one small inner city neighbourhood with dealers and users that run them and the few remaining families and drug-free friends that try to survive on them. Superficially, many of the characters will seem familiar. Anyone who's watched a few hours of American cop show dramas in the last decade will be familiar with the attitude of the pushers and dealers, the repulsiveness of the addicts with their needles scars and malnourished faces, the hatred of the (few) cops that dare disturb the open air drug markets and need dens. The Corner is an altogether less superficial examination though.

A year with this underclass of America reveals more than you might want to know. The dealers on the streets aren't generated spontaneously, vials in pocket, ready to start slinging. They grew up on those same streets, learning the game by watching, waiting until it was obvious there was nothing more to be gained from school and no chance of earning enough cash legitimately to leave the neighborhood. Similarly, their customers, the fiends, did not arrive overnight on buses from some other, worse, area. They are the dealer's childhood friends, their cousins, even their parents. The drug trade is not some secret war being fought by our governments in foreign fields with evil faceless men. It is the only trade in growing parts of our cities. It is the only thing some of our children will even know, the only thing some of our parents want.

The Corner doesn't make excuses for drug addiction, but it does point out the real lack of viable alternatives to the growing underclass in America, and the unavoidable failure of all the methods being employed in fighting it. Its not big on solutions - I guess the authors don't claim to be sociologists. But this book really should be read by anyone who can read to raise awareness if nothing else. It is heart-breaking, horrifying, and disturbing. There are few points of any encouragement, few examples of admirable qualities in any of the cast. But there are a few who make it out alive so there is some element of hope in the story.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough - buy it now :)
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on 26 May 2009
This is David Simon's second masterpiece. What a guy. We're lucky to have him. As has been said before, he's like one of the great 19th century novelists in his understanding and compassion, revealing a side of life mainstream society is happy to ignore.

I grew up in a very rough part of London and I recognize much of what he's writing about in this book in a milder form than what he describes in Baltimore. Especially the cut throat, dog eat dog, every man for himself attitude that exists in the ghetto, for all the talk of brotherhood and homies and bredrin. The social disintegration he writes about in this book is a direct result of the hyper consumer capitalist society we have created, and nothing will ever change as long as we maintain this system.
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on 5 May 2009
Every politician should be forced to read this, and squirm as their lies about 'the war on drugs' are carefully skewered, one by one. The rest of us should read it because it's an amazing book, a great book. It examines the hell of one particular underclass with the biting intelligence of a Chomsky and the profound compassion of Dostoyevsky's 'From the House of the Dead'. A vital present-tense narrative of broken and wasted lives is interspersed with brilliant essays on why things are this way and why the status quo is designed to dehumanize us all. But it really isn't heavy going; the authors describe it as a work of journalism, but it's journalism of the highest order, with a quicksilver wit, bracing anger and the selfless sympathy which allows us to witness other people's lives.
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on 3 May 2009
In The Corner, David Simon and Ed Burns study in detail an area of Baltimore infested by the drug culture, which will be more than familiar to viewers of The Wire, Simon's hugely critically-acclaimed television series. However, this is not The Wire - this book is only concerned with those living and dealing in the area around the intersection of West Fayette and Monroe Streets (the eponymous Corner). So don't expect a leap to view the drug war from the side of the police - that was dealt with in Simon and Burns' companion book, Homicide.

In this area that America has largely abandoned, the book follows DeAndre McCollough and his drug-addicted parents over the course of a year, describing their struggle to continue living in the inner city. Often shocking and saddening to read, it opens your eyes wide to a problem you may not have considered before, or simply didn't consider 'all that bad', as I did.

Equally fascinating, though, is the analysis that goes into the problems and solutions in the neighbourhood around the Corner, which are reflected in many American inner cities today. Why is it that the police, the welfare system, and society as a whole have failed to 'clean up' these areas? This question is considered thoroughly over the book's substantial length, and often the answers that are suggested are surprising.

This is a tough read, regarding the content, though it is also a gripping and engrossing study. If you have any interest in the fight against drug culture, I would highly recommend this book.
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Readers of `Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets' by the same author will know roughly what to expect from this book. They will not be disappointed. It is a compelling portrait of the bleak, and often short, lives of the drug dealers and users who inhabit a small area of inner-city Baltimore, written after spending a year on the streets with them. It is not just a factual narrative, but also reports the feeling and thoughts of the dealers, users and their families from the detailed knowledge the authors have of them. It is impossible to know whether these interpolations are accurate, but they certainly seem authentic. The relentless downward drift of most of the individuals to a point of no return, despite repeated attempts by some of them to reform, is clinically chronicled. The depressing narrative of degradation, where daily existence revolves around getting the next fix and life is held cheaply, is only lightened by a few examples of remarkable individuals who maintain their hope against all the odds. A few even succeed in breaking out of the vicious cycle of drugs and at the close of the book are leading `normal' lives. The authors refrain from passing judgement on the characters, but do criticise the Baltimore authorities for lack of action. Is this justified, or would the characters have ended where they do anyway? Not living there, I cannot judge, but the fact that this appalling situation exists in what was once one of America's great cities is probably evidence enough of failure. This well-written book is a good and thought-provoking read, but not a pleasant one.
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