The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood
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The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood

4.4 of 5 stars 4.40  ·  rating details  ·  2,987 ratings  ·  387 reviews
West Baltimore, Fayette and Monroe: the corner. On this forgotten intersection, the American dream has crumbled to a nightmare. Here, the full price of the drug culture is being paid — yet, surprisingly, it can also be a place of hope, caring, and love.
This extraordinary book tells the searing true story of one year in the life of an inner-city neighborhood.
Written by Dav...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published June 15th 1998 by Broadway Books (first published 1997)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
161st out of 2,830 books — 4,798 voters
Homicide by David SimonMystic River by Dennis LehaneClockers by Richard PriceThe Corner by David SimonShutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Great books by writers of hbo's the wire
4th out of 30 books — 62 voters


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Community Reviews

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Kinga
"The Corner is rooted in human desire - crude and certain and immediate. And the hard truth is that all the law enforcement in the world can't mess with desire."

I have this flaw in my character that I am extremely judgmental. I try to fight it. I try to tell myself I don't know the circumstances. I can't see the whole picture. But no matter how hard I try, there is always that voice in my head that keeps saying "why can't people just get their shit together". You know, go get a job, stop selling...more
Matt
This is a difficult book to discuss. After all, it tramples all over the third rail of American life: race. It’s about an inner-city neighborhood that’s nearly as far from my own life experience as possible. As an outsider looking in, it’s hard not to blurt out something hopelessly condescending or insufferably judgmental.

I am white. I came from the suburbs. I played soccer and listened to Blink 182. I came from a different place than the Baltimore citizens chronicled in David Simon’s and Edwar...more
C.E.
Mar 13, 2008 C.E. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of "The Wire", people interested in an honest, unflinching portrait of the drug world
Books don't get much more powerful or moving than this.

The premise is simple--Baltimore Sun reporter Simon (who's lately been earning acclaim as the driving force behind HBO's "The Wire" which takes place in the same area)and Ed Burns spent a year living on or around one of the busiest drug markets in Baltimore and reports what he learned. In doing so, he tells the stories of the people who inhabit this world: street pushers, kids trying (although often not that hard) to stay straight and the p...more
Stephen
I have the unique perspective of having lived on "The Corner" for a year, and in the neighborhood for two more. My review might be biased because I don't have the luxury of distancing myself from the characters or saying "such and such was probably embellished for dramatic flair."



The characters in The Corner are real people struggling to live "normal" lives in the face of circumstances that 99% of us would consider absolutely unacceptable. Burns and Simon stay with each character long enough to...more
Diana
The interesting thing about The Corner is I used to pass this exact corner in the summers when I visited my Grandmother. I had no idea that that corner was a drug corner; I was so sheltered and naive back then. I knew there were drug dealers and addicts, but they were everywhere it seemed and it became a staple in the backgrounds of my visits. Interestingly enough, I learned to fear these addicts, walking past them with my cousin and seeing them high out their minds, I would just look at the gro...more
Julia
Feb 05, 2008 Julia rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is quite possibly one of the best books I've read! Ed Burns and David Simon undertake a journalistic approach to the traditionally anthropological method of ethnography- the descriptive documentation of a living culture. The result of over a year of living among and gaining the trust of individuals within the culture is an amazingly engrossing story of the year-in-the-life of the residents around an open-air drug market on Baltimore's west side.

Focusing on a core of approximately 10 indivi...more
Jen
A very heavy book--figuratively and literally. At over 500 pages, I did have a little trouble with the length--I wasn't always compelled to pick it up and read more, given I was going to read about more hardship, disappointment, and misery. However, I understand why the authors wanted to give a year-in-the-life of the people they wrote about--it gives a fuller spectrum of their day-to-day lives. For those of us outside "the corner" life, this book gives a lot of intimate and personal details abo...more
Melissa
Don't follow this link if you plan to read the book & haven't, but I was pleasantly surprised after I searched for one of the characters online this morning...
A bizarre redemption tale.
The Corner is written in documentary form, with apparently 75-80% of the content being observed events in the lives of these West Baltimore residents. The focus of the books is more on the drug users than the drug sellers, which makes sense as I'm sure there aren't too many dealers out there looking to be foll...more
Larraine
"Searing" is one of the most overused descriptions for a book. For me, a one word description would be "heartbreaking." The book was written in 1997, but I doubt that much will change. If our nation ever gets past it's obsession with the criminalization of drugs, this period in our history may go down as one of the most wrong headed and stupid, right up with with prohibition and with almost as horrifying results as slavery. The story centers on a few people at a corner in West Baltimore. Gary is...more
Aaron Arnold
I had to wait a few days after finishing this book to write anything about it, because it didn't seem like any part of my reaction really did it justice, or would be worthy enough to record without cheapening the book. It's unquestionably one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time, and knowing that it's nonfiction - that all these people really did exist and really did do the things it describes - makes me pause. Very few books make me think about my own relationship to the text to...more
Hadrian
In Chapter 5 of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, that chronicle of poverty in the Great Depression after a section on of the dejection of poverty, where the description transitions into a long string of punctuation marks. The emotion and description have moved beyond words. The author pounds his fists on the typewriter and screams out of frustration.

This is a real Social Document. It is a raw and honest look at the brutal decay and degradation of the inner city, the compounding of prejudice and bad...more
Mariel
Mar 23, 2011 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: 4 minute warning
Recommended to Mariel by: house of cards
Ed Burns and David Simon's The Corner gave me a lot to think about. I really could not stop living in it, or talking about it to anyone who would pretend to listen to me (life before I wrote reviews on goodreads).
Their journalistic approach of living with their subjects (in no way are the people within this account "subjects". I'm not good with word choices) for a year and being able to not leave their own footprint in was fascinating to me, for one thing. Not that it isn't hard to read about i...more
Borbality
Fascinating chronicle of the drug life in the inner city. I mean some real grim stuff. Mom living in a crack house with multiple kids.

This is not like "The Wire," not a gritty crime drama starring a cop who doesn't play by the rules.

This is seriously just about the hopeless drug life and most facets of it. We know it doesn't end well, either.

My only problem with this sort of thing is that it kind of romanticizes the culture and "good old days" of junkies at times. You can tell the authors real...more
Flora
A couple of thoughts on The Corner:

I thought Simon and Burns did a great job telling these people's stories, and they did right by their subjects in staying in touch and following up for several years afterward.

Like "The Wire," the pacing can be slow and maddeningly erratic. It took some time for me to care much about these characters.

Also, it was neat to see how this book provided the seeds for some of the "Wire" characters. I know there must be a universality to the corner life, but it's not...more
Jean Marie Davis
If I learned anything from this book it's that drug abuse is booooring. Seriously. It's like going to a party sober. It's no fun and all your friends act like assholes. Boring.

My main concerns with this book were thematic and so ingrained within the structure that I had difficultly overlooking them. For starters, it's too long. There was no need for this book to prattle on for over 500 pages. Several passages that went on for pages about the boys under-16 basketball team. One passage would've s...more
Dirk Baranek
Ein absolut empfehlenswertes Buch. Aus mehreren Gründen.

Grund 1: die Form. Die Autoren nennen es selbst "erzählenden Journalismus". In der Tat: es ist quasi eine auf Buchlänge ausgeweitete Reportage, einigermaßen chronologisch erzählt. Die Sprache ist journalistisch: genau, einfach, präzise. Verschnörkelte literarische Poetik ist hier abwesend.

Grund 2: das Thema. Es geht um den "War on drugs", den die USA jetzt seit 40 Jahren innen und außen fechten und der rein gar nichts gebracht hat, außer ü...more
Curtis Marx
"These [people] I write of are human beings, living in this world, innocent of such twistings as these which are taking place over their heads; and that they were dwelt among, investigated, spied on, revered and loved by other quite monstrously alien human beings, in the employment of others still more alien; and that they are now being looked into by still others, who have picked up their living as casually as if it were a book..."

I cannot find a more fitting way to describe this book than the...more
Todd Nemet
Two writers spend a year hanging out and observing a West Baltimore neighborhood that is almost completely given over to open-air drug markets. It's sort of an urban "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" with fewer linking verbs.

One of the writers is an ex-cop schoolteacher named Ed Burns, and the other is David Simon, writer of the excellent Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and creator of The Wire. In a lot of ways The Corner is the flip side of Homicide, showing Baltimore from the point of vie...more
Tfitoby
With The Corner David Simon and Ed Burns have produced a fine journalistic example of documenting a living culture - the drug trade in one small area of Baltimore in 1993 - in a descriptively interesting manner that sheds some light on the whys and hows of the situation. As with Homicide you are immersed in the world of these people and you are horrified at the differences between you and them but at no point are they held up for ridicule; Simon and Burns are largely sympathetic in their honest...more
Kaleigh Meyer
This book was pretty good, and I enjoyed it. I found it interesting to read and learn about places very different from Chatham. This book takes place in West Baltimore, a very poor and bad part of the city. "The Corner", is the meeting place between West Fayette Street Monroe Street where many dealers deal drugs to people living in that area. It revolves around one family, that face many obstacles including drug abuse, adolescence, and the struggle to stay out of trouble. In all, I rate this boo...more
Matt
A staggeringly good book, following a family and their friends living in the bowels of hell – a few blocks of West Baltimore’s drug district. A focused look at a tiny facet of the USA’s huge problem - not trying to find solutions, because maybe there aren’t any.
My only complaint with this book was at times, the authors gave their opinions on the sociological history and impacts of this horrible situation – when I really just wanted to get back to the McCullough family in the hope there’d be some...more
AticoLibros
Hay muchas razones para leer "La esquina", de David Simon y Ed Burns. Ahí van dos: es un ejercicio de periodismo narrativo ejemplar, por honesto, rico y ambicioso, en un tiempo en el que el trabajo de contar historias reales ya no es como lo conocimos; y dos, retrata la otra cara de América, el gueto, busca explicaciones e intuye por qué fracasan todas las políticas para erradicar la droga y la pobreza. La esquina es un horizonte, siempre va a estar ahí, en cualquier parte del mundo. (La Tribuna...more
Chris
very good extended reporting.
but like a lot of this stuff from America, it's too long.
reads nicely when the narratives follows people's lives ... and just as it get's comfortable, the narrative switches to a long essay-like newspaper think piece. also good. but the book would have been more powerful if the writers had just stuck to letting the characters show their lives. Readers like this. and they tend to switch off when the essay starts.
But wonderful reporting.
Louis
David Simon and Edward Burns’ The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood profiles West Baltimore and the drug trade that has developed in the area. In addition to examining the consequences, Simon and Burns attempt to explain what drives people to get involved in the drug trade in the first place: the appeal of easy money and the failures of individual and societal responsibility in the post-industrial era.

Simon and Burns also highlight the complete failure of the “War on Drug...more
Dave Wilson
I was predisposed to like this book. As a huge fan of the HBO series The Wire (re-watch it every year) I was excited to dive into one of the two books that inspired the series. While the same setting of the inner-city open air drug market is there and Simon and Burns' depiction of this world as a never ending meat-grinder churning out despair, destruction, hopelessness, poverty, and death remains, the main characters are playing different parts. In The Wire we are given a look into the world of...more
Sarah
This is one of the most fascinating, disturbing, moving and enlightening books I've ever read. Masterfully written and keenly insightful about a segment of society that is so mysterious and poorly understood. Like Homicide and The Wire, it offers an unblinking, unsentimental but profoundly compassionate view of its subjects.
Bob Cairns
This is a fascinating read, while I read becuase of watching the wire this book focuses mainly on those who are taking the drugs rather than the sellers or the cops chasing them down. To be honest I dont have much to say about this other than you should read this, because you cant understand until you do.
Christine
Read this because I had recently gotten hooked on the Wire. Working in Baltimore makes the story seem that much more real. Its sad we live in times where there is so much prosperity yet people still resort to drugs, crime, more drugs, having babies. It doesn't have to be this way does it?
Tessa
What can I say, really? It was an all-encompassing, hopeful, sad, frustrating, humanizing look at a world that most people who I know don't know, but should know. Not because knowing is half the battle but because it's a first step towards being more in the world.
Chris
One of the books that served as the basis for the TV series The Wire, The Corner focuses on the families and addicts ad dealers at the street level far below the stronger focus of the show on the high level traffickers.
The book is best when he sticks to describing peoples lives and letting them speak for themselves. The degeneration into ranting periodically throughout the book is not particularly helpful, it seems to me, because it undercuts the story itself mainly because Mr. Simon is long on...more
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11395
David Simon is a journalist and writer best known for his nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and its television dramatization Homicide: Life on the Street, which David Simon also produced and wrote for.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
More about David Simon...
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets The Wire: A Dramatic Series for HBO Fifty Key Thinkers on Development Paths of Glory The Wire: Truth Be Told

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“That's the myth of it, the required lie that allows us to render our judgments. Parasites, criminals, dope fiends, dope peddlers, whores--when we can ride past them at Fayette and Monroe, car doors locked, our field of vision cautiously restricted to the road ahead, then the long journey into darkness is underway. Pale-skinned hillbillies and hard-faced yos, toothless white trash and gold-front gangsters--when we can glide on and feel only fear, we're well on the way. And if, after a time, we can glimpse the spectacle of the corner and manage nothing beyond loathing and contempt, then we've arrived at last at that naked place where a man finally sees the sense in stretching razor wire and building barracks and directing cattle cars into the compound.

It's a reckoning of another kind, perhaps, and one that becomes a possibility only through the arrogance and certainty that so easily accompanies a well-planned and well-tended life. We know ourselves, we believe in ourselves; from what we value most, we grant ourselves the illusion that it's not chance in circumstance, that opportunity itself isn't the defining issue. We want the high ground; we want our own worth to be acknowledged. Morality, intelligence, values--we want those things measured and counted. We want it to be about Us.

Yes, if we were down there, if we were the damned of the American cities, we would not fail. We would rise above the corner. And when we tell ourselves such things, we unthinkably assume that we would be consigned to places like Fayette Street fully equipped, with all the graces and disciplines, talents and training that we now posses. Our parents would still be our parents, our teachers still our teachers, our broker still our broker. Amid the stench of so much defeat and despair, we would kick fate in the teeth and claim our deserved victory. We would escape to live the life we were supposed to live, the life we are living now. We would be saved, and as it always is in matters of salvation, we know this as a matter of perfect, pristine faith.

Why? The truth is plain:

We were not born to be niggers.”
10 likes
“It isn't about the welfare check. It never was.

It isn't about sexual permissiveness, or personal morality, or failures in parenting, or lack of family planning. All of these are inherent in the disaster, but the purposefulness with which babies make babies in places like West Baltimore goes far beyond accident and chance, circumstance and misunderstanding. It's about more than the sexual drives of adolescents, too, though that might be hard to believe in a country where sex alone is enough of an argument to make anyone do just about anything.

In Baltimore, a city with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, the epidemic is, at root, about human expectation, or more precisely, the absence of expectation.”
3 likes
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