Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America
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Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  1,239 ratings  ·  223 reviews
Long before U.S. News and World Report named him one of America's Best Leaders and Oprah Winfrey called him "an angel from God," Geoffrey Canada was a small, vulnerable, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. Canada's world was one where "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed...more
Hardcover, 179 pages
Published April 9th 1996 by Beacon Press (first published 1995)
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Eliu
Fist stick knife gun honestly was a 5 . The book was a NON-FICTION classic . I actually enjoyed reading the book alot . The book spoke about actual problems happening throughout the whole united states not just in New York city . In forming all the people in the world now all the violence he grew up in . Showing them that it was not good ol ' happy times . That people's familys actually suffered from the violence in the streets . How geoffrey went from being a innocent little kid to fighting wi...more
Badly Drawn Girl
Feb 27, 2010 Badly Drawn Girl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone

This book should be required reading for all Americans. Geoffrey Canada has not only written a coming of age story about a gifted child growing up in the ghetto but he also has a clear outline of ideas that will help reduce the violence children face today.

Geoffrey Canada survived a rough and tumble childhood, but even he was shocked when the drug trade switched over to crack and guns replaced fists and knives. Suddenly the rules of conduct no longer mattered. Guns allowed everyone to suddenly...more
Emily
My book club chose this book in part because of its length: short. Sadly, I only finished half of it in time for the book club, mostly because I was fussing around with other books and didn't start it until a day or so before. I finally finished it, several weeks later. I enjoyed it, and it was interesting, mostly because I am a Wire fan (no spoilers, still haven't seen the 5th season, I know, I suck), and there are a lot of parallels. Bunny Colvin and Cutty come to mind, and obviously the stree...more
Kony
A vivid glimpse into Canada's boyhood in the Bronx - how poverty and violence shaped his choices, how he grew into a smart and principled fighter, how he left the 'hood and returned to see the violence heightened, and more chaotic, thanks to evolving weapons.

With plain language and unsentimental passion, through personal stories rather than stats, Canada describes the crazy war zone that poor children in America must navigate (or die trying). Against this backdrop he closes with a thumbnail ske...more
Heather
My husband and I were having a conversation about why most mass shootings that happen are a male problem and he told me that I should read this book because he felt like it somewhat answered the question. This book specifically didn't answer that question, but it gave a good insight into how guns are more prevalent in our society. Geoffrey Canada is a well renowned educator who grew-up in the projects in the Bronx. He examines his boyhood and the violence and how that involved from fighting with...more
Jamal
My independent reading book this trimester was, "Fist Stick Knife Gun" by Geoffrey Canada. The book has many settings. The main setting is New York, the main setting is Union Ave where Geoffrey and his brothers grew up and learned the way of fighting and how to defend there selves. They grew up in a poor home with a single mother who did the best she could. Geoffrey had four brothers, he was the second youngest. In the book the Narrator(Geoffrey) will talk about his life as a young man and an ad...more
Joseph Stieb
An short and eye-opening book about urban violence. Unfortunately for Canada's argument, the "plague" of violence that was engulfing America in the 1980s and early 1990s has since declined dramatically. Nevertheless, we remain one of the most violent societies in the developed world, and Canada's memoir goes a long way to explain this fact. Dismissing the admittedly weak "we used to be weak on crime in the hippy 60s and 70s" argument, Canada shows that in his childhood, almost no one had a gun....more
Michael
Very good book. I really enjoyed Canada's analysis of how the Rockefeller laws plus the Crack explosion of the 80's enabled a new young force of drug dealers who grew very rich quickly and yet didn't have the maturity to use their funds/power wisely.
Clancy
One of my students erroneously signed this book out of our in class library as "Fish Stick, Knife Gun." My friend kept making me laugh by saying, "Stick 'em up! I have a Mrs. Pauls."
The book was a heart-breaking look into our violent society.
Larry
Fist Stick Knife Gun is part auto-biography, part opinion piece. It’s about poverty, violence and the ineptitude of American society to address those problems. In some ways this book is dated and in some ways, it could have been written yesterday.

Geoffrey Canada begins by describing his youth growing up in the South Bronx before the proliferation of guns. He was taught by his family, the culture of the streets, and common sense, that though he may not like it, he had to be violent to protect him...more
Elliot Ratzman
It’s hard not to think of Geoffrey Canada as a hero. After growing up on a tough block in Harlem in the 1960s—he was good in school and in street smarts—he attended Bowdoin College, then Harvard Ed. Working with troubled inner city kids in Boston and New York, Canada has made a name for himself by being the face of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a community development model of education and services for poor children and their families. He also teaches martial arts. This memoir is a finely crafted...more
Christina G
An economist on the radio cited this book as "required reading" for every American, and I can see why he said that. I've never lived in an area where gangs were visible on the corners, never been in a fight, never been held up. So it was healthy for me to read about Canada's upbringing and work. He describes certain American neighborhoods as war zones, and he points out that you can't even say these kids have PTSD because they're being retraumatized on the daily (so they have TSD?). And most rag...more
snowgray
Canada bemoans the glorification of violence, but several chapters contain accounts of fights he participated in or witnessed as a child. He explains that he was taken in by an older teenager, who allowed him to be 'smart' but also taught him how to fight; he brags that though he was small and in a high level academic class, he won many fights and was respected. His descriptions of the petty battles for pecking order during his childhood ring true, but he also seems nostalgic for the 'good old d...more
Jo
This review is from BOOKLIST but is exactly how I feel about this book.

This brutally honest account of a childhood in the Bronx is a personal history of violence in America and a hopeful plea for the salvation of our children caught in today's cross fire. Canada's childhood experiences influenced his sensitive understanding of violent attitudes born out of fear and self-preservation. What is perhaps most disturbing about the events Canada experienced is the degree to which all such occurrences (...more
Chris Rosario
In this memoir Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffry Canada, the author takes you to the roots of the streets in the Bronx New York. Geoffry shows you what does a child in any block have to do to get the respect they need to step foot outside of their door.

Geoffry is a young boy trying to get the basic rules of the streets. He realizes that life in the bronx isn't going to be a walk in the park. He starts to find out that the question was, How to get respect? and his answer was simple, m16's, rifles,...more
Daniel Mason-D'croz
I think the book brings some interesting points to the table, especially on the impact of the proliferation of firearms, and the way they destroyed the previous order. He makes some good points about how firearms don't really provide deterrence to violence, but instead increase chaos and instability, which breeds more violence. I do think Canada is a bit too nostalgic about the old days. While he readily accepts the brutality of the streets before the entry of firearms in mass, there is still a...more
Claire
The subtitle of this book is “A Personal History of Violence.” This is a personal story of Canada's experiences growing up in a very poor neighbourhood in the Bronx in New York City, then, after university, returning to the same city and working with the youth of the Bronx and Harlem. I suggested this for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Club after hearing it recommended by one of the duo who wrote the Freakonomics, during one of their podcasts. These guys are incredibly interesting and tell great...more
Gwen
Geoff Canada grew up in the streets of New York City, south bronx I believe. In his memoir, Canada takes the reader through his life growing up in a rough neighborhood in an honest and unapoligetic (sp?) manner. The title Fist Stick Knife Gun progresses from the easiest weapons to the more deadly. Canada recalls his first incident with violence when he was 4. His brother had his coat taken from a kid on the playground. When he told his mother, she responded that he and his older brother had to g...more
Nick
When Canada wrote Fist Stick in the early 90's things really were this bad in New York. Reading it now in 2008 its amazing to hear him discuss blocks in my neighborhood that were warzones 10 years ago and have new condos on the corner now.

This doesnt make his insights on the history of and solutions to urban American violence any less relevant. The situation in NYC may have improved thanks to the economic up tick of the last 10 years, but cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Memphis haven't been...more
Melinda
This memoir is subtitled "A personal history of violence in America" Canada tells of growing up in the Bronx in the late 50's and early 60's. He explains the pervasive violence and code of conduct that all boys had to learn inorder to survive in that neighborhood. He then contrasts his childhood full of brutal fist-fights and the occasional encouter with a weapon and the Bronx he returned to after college. During the 70's and 80's guns became very common in poor neighborhoods. All the sudden, th...more
Lidinchoo
Well, it's the time of a bad summer, the summer of 1993 in New York City. People in America have been killed by other people who use violence. I'd imagine long ago in the 1900's that people were getting killed on the streets everyday, even people who never used violence in their life. When I began to read the book, Fist Stick Knife Gun, it was a violent time of killing, people dying in vain for no reasons. It's mostly about a boy living in the streets of a neighborhood where violence had always...more
Missjgray
This book made me cry.

Canada's prose style is very immediate, no fancy vocabulary, some unusual sentence construction. I feel like this is how he speaks and he is passionate so this is what comes out. He's a highly readable essay stylist. With occasional passages of brilliance.

I've been reading a ton about violence, torture, nonviolence, and the like. This book makes the most personal argument. Most of my experience on the "gun control" issue has been from the libertarian/constitutional end of...more
Nicole Smith
This was a very, very sad book. Very well written - drew me in and kept me turning pages. Every time I had to close the book I was calculating in my head how long it would be before I could open it again. While this book was written in 1995 it just left me wondering if things have gotten any better and made me questions how much if anything we have done as a society to face the problems that this book makes so clear. How many children find themselves living not only in poverty, but also in fear...more
Anna
Review
Wood, S.W. (1995). Book Review: Social Sciences. Library Journal, 120(9), 85.

Graphic Novel: Cornog, M. (2010). Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence. Library Journal, 135(19), 54.

SOL
Health Education 7: The student will use knowledge of health concepts to make decisions related to personal safety and wellness, skills include alternatives to gang-related behaviors and acts of violence.
Health Education 10: The student will implement personal-injury-prevention and self-managemen...more
Nathan
If you are interested in understanding someone else’s perspective, this is the book to read. Canada’s perspective as a child growing up in an often violent inner city can be both difficult to understand and hard to read at times. Personally though, working to understand the mindset of a person much different from me was extremely rewarding. It is a constant reminder that as an outsider, much of the violence seen in the inner city has a reason. That reason can be debated, but it is important that...more
Steph
Outstanding...this book really gives a lot of information about the crisis facing our society today...the book was written in the 90s, after the crack boom of the 80's and warfare that continues to this day in our inner cities. Mr. Canada has written an excellent book of the recent history of violence in our ghettos. He is correct; no one really cared about urban warfare until it started to spill into the suburbs. Now we are at a crisis point where, if we don't change, it's only going to become...more
Anna
Canada’s autobiographical account details life in the projects of South Bronx in the 1960s. Through his eyes, the reader is placed on the third floor of an apartment building: scared to go out because in order to use the playground, one has to fist fight a kid of the same size. Canada finally makes it out to the street where he learns from the “older kids” how to fight, save face, “have heart,” and protect himself and his family. The need for protection escalates over the years from learning how...more
Mallie
Powerful account of Geoffrey Canada's childhood in the South Bronx and experience working in Boston and Harlem as an adult. I appreciated his candor and detailed explanations. I finished wanting to know more about several of the people he talked about through the book. What happened to Mike? What was his mother like? Where is she now? I also wonder why Geoffrey Canada doesn't have children of his own. He may feel like the children of Harlem Children's Zone are all his children, but if that's the...more
Chris
Geoffrey Canada is a remarkable individual, the sort of person who is routinely awarded MacArthur Genius Grants. He grew up in a poor South Bronx neighborhood, attended Bowdoin and Harvard, and has worked in central Harlem for several decades, running the Rheedlin Beacon schools, Harlem Children's Zone, Peacemakers, and a half dozen other education, anti-poverty, and violence reduction programs.

What's engrossing about this book, though, is not the raft of policy prescriptions that come at the en...more
Andromeda
Dear Charan,

I am reading a book entitled "Fist Stick Knife Gun," by Geoffrey Canada, which is a work of an autobiography. This book made me realize the struggle in the South Bronx where I'm from during the mid fifties and the sixties. The life in many neighborhoods was about fighting and gaining respect. For example, if it was your friend or even a stranger you would have to fight someone to prove to the neighborhood and the people that has much power that you can win and that you are not a cow...more
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Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada 1 5 Oct 10, 2011 09:07AM  
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
  • Death at an Early Age
  • We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools
  • The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom
  • The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial
  • Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom
  • Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America
  • Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America
  • Leon's Story
  • Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America
  • Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word
  • The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy
  • Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
  • Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood
  • Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male
  • There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America
  • Looking Back: A Book of Memories
  • Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice
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Geoffrey Canada is an African-American social activist. He is the author of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. Since 1990, Canada has been president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York.
He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College and a Master's degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
More about Geoffrey Canada...
Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, A True Story in Black and White Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America Work On Purpose Things Get Hectic: Teens Write About the Violence That Surrounds Them Voices of Determination

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