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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 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 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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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 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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on 23 May 1999
I grew up in that neighborhood and many of my relatives still live there today. I believe I'm qualified to say that Simon's portrait of West Baltimore life is extremely accurate. However, the authors could have presented the complete story, Fat Curt wasn't always the soulless junky that Simon highlighted, he had a family and friends, I was one of them.
Athletic talents got me out, but what of those that can't shoot a ball, or rap, or those that have to attend a West Baltimore public school. Life is tough in the ghetto, I think everyone knows that. Now Simon needs to write a book of solutions to the problem that he so profoundly explained.
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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 7 June 2011
Oh good grief, is this ever a depressing book?

As we all know, there's drug dealing on the streets of most major (and many minor) cities in America. This book watches what happens in one such "drug market" in the mid-1990s, and the impact living in that society has on the people living there.

I found the book beyond depressing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, reading about seemingly nice people (and some iffier ones) being brought low by drugs isn't fun, I don't think, if you've got any ability to empathise with people. Secondly, I got depressed by (and angry at) the police. With the exception of a couple "beat cops," they didn't seem willing to do anything more than the most basic and rudimentary policing, and that's not what we pay our taxes for.

The other thing that it brought home to me is what John Edwards (the former US Presidential candidate) called the "Two Americas." I work in America for a good chunk of each year, and I was surprised and disgusted by the America I read in this book. I mean, we all know that drug dealing occurs, but a 24/7 open air drug market on the streets of Baltimore? Disgusting.

This is an interesting book. You'll get depressed by it, but it might open some people's eyes too.
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