Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City” as Want to Read:
On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City

(Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  2,839 ratings  ·  365 reviews
Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relatio ...more
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published May 1st 2014 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2014)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about On the Run, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about On the Run

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,839 ratings  ·  365 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I'll start this off with a compliment: Alice Goffman is a phenomenal writer. She tells stories and weaves a narrative that paints a vivid image of urban poverty, crime, and the failings of the criminal justice system in a striking and captivating way, and deserves credit for that. This book reads quickly and is fairly enjoyable given the subject matter.

The problem is in her methodology and the choices she made in writing this book. Goffman is a sociologist, and in spite of reading like it was wr
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is it. This book perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with our society. It shows what is wrong with the war in drugs, the stop and frisk laws, and the error of having intimidate and arrest be our go-to response to societal and economic problems. Read this.
Martin Zook
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
On the Run is an incredibly authentic look at an emblematic neighborhood in Philly where more than half the men at some point have a warrant out for their arrest, causing them to be on the run. On the run from the police. On the run from parole officers. On the run from the courts. On the run from girlfriends. On the run from those who would use their vulnerability to victimize them.

This is the world behind the statistical sketch Alice Goffman paints in her preface. Briefly, the US locks up five
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Working as an appellate defender (i.e. an attorney who represents indigent criminal defendants on appeals) gives one an interesting perspective on life in the inner city. I’ve read hundreds of trial transcripts and looked at lots of photos and videos, getting a partial but distanced look at a clientele whose lives are vastly different than mine.

Sociologist Alice Goffman’s new book is a field study that sheds light and fills in gaps in my knowledge about the lives of the young black men that are
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book, I hope a lot of people read it and get educated on what's happening in segregated, low-income black neighborhoods, and in turn I hope that enacts policy change. I'd heard about the 'new jim crow' before, but didn't know much about it. I assumed it was activist language threaded with a bit of truth (for instance, I knew POC were much more likely to be charged with drug possession than whites), but Goffman's years-long research and observation draws into focus how accurate th ...more
Jun 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I dinged this one star because there is a bit too much repetition of the lessons learned at the end of each chapter -- I suspect that is because about 2/3 of this book is a dissertation. But the author is an excellent reporter of what it is like for people of color in the inner city in Philadelphia, and in addition the final third of the book, about what it was like for her personally to become so immersed in this experience, is very powerful. Anyone who cares about "The New Jim Crow" and the im ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
A very engaging ethnography - as a college student, the author moved to the inner city and spent her time hanging out with a group of young black men often on the run from the law. The book is a good look into how heavy policing affects all aspects of individual and community life. And the author is a good storyteller so it makes for engaging reading. Since she writes about one social network it's hard to tell how representative this is, and I think the criticism that the author herself got in t ...more
Jan 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is garbage and here's a far more succinct summary of why than I could ever produce:
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this 260-page book in two days. Coincidentally, my library request for it came through just as I was finishing Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and I thought the two would make for an interesting comparison. In a way they are quite similar works: immersive works by women about a culture not their own. But while Katherine Boo hides the stitching in her work—erasing her own presence and narrating events as if her book were a novel, Goffman's book is first and foremost an academic work of ...more
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I did not finish On the Run--after about 150 pages, I was too fed up with Goffman's mixed-up position within the community as researcher/friend/confidant/roommate to find her credible. As a white woman in this neighborhood, she may well have made friends and seen the injustices that are rampant, but using that position to write academic scholarship is disingenuous. My discomfort is much better put in this review by Christina Sharpe:
Mike E.
Apr 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
It is hard for me to begin a book and not finish it . . usually.

Goffman's immersion into life in the crime-ridden "Sixth Street" of urban-poor Philly is beautiful--especially the mutuality and genuineness of her remarkably uncommon friendships. Goffman makes bold (& I assume accurate), infrequently told claims about incarceration rates in the USA. She states that arrest rates were basically the same in the USA until about 1970: approximately 1 in 1000. Today the rate is about 1 in 107. She state
Oct 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
This sub-urban raised white woman does not have a good factual based scholarly approach to her book/dissertation. She is exposed to ONE neighbourhood, and now she believes the police are arresting too much? Imprisoning innocents too often? She was in ONE area. ONE!!! That's nothing. You can't base off your whole dissertation off one long experience in an area. This is what UPenn students do with their time- jack off to confirmation biases and look for reasons to cause sociological question. Alic ...more
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an incredible work of sociological scholarship, but more importantly, it's an amazing read. It's also an extremely important book, and I hope it is widely read and discussed. Dr. Goffman puts you right in the lives of these men and women, because she herself was there. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't seek medical treatment because cops hang out at the ER looking for men with outstanding warrants. Or if you had to choose between betraying the man you loved or losing custody ...more
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, nonfiction
This riveting report from six years living amidst marginalized people in Philadelphia is a version of the author's fieldwork for her PhD thesis, revised for a general audience. Goffman immersed herself in the lives of ordinary young black men and their families, building a layered understanding of the effects of the war on crime on a single community. Through the experiences of her subjects, the prisoner's dilemma of decisions faced by the guilty and innocent alike comes vividly to life. You get ...more
Stefan Schmager
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A deeply concerning and eye-opening book, on multiple levels. It gives a great insight on how male PoC are deprived and stifled especially during their young age. And it makes you aware of the privileges you enjoy just by being white.

The author has received a lot of criticism on her field work about being too careless of keeping academic professionalism. However I think the stories she tells are worth telling & reading despite any elitist resentments.
Lashaan Balasingam (Bookidote)
This ethnography conducted by Alice Goffman on six years is definitely eye-opening and filled with fascinating anecdotes to stun readers. Making a statement that "high imprisonment rates and the intensive policing and surveillance that have accompanied them are transforming poor Black neighborhoods into communities of suspects and fugitives", this sociologist writes a compelling read to show us how individuals come together to create a completely different social world that their are forced to l ...more
Amar Pai
Jun 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Super depressing. The "War on Drugs," the prison industry, militarization of police, parole-- add it all up and you have a system of racial control. Parole especially. Fuck a piss test. Why should anyone have to take a drug test, ever? The number of situations where this seems legitimate is vanishingly small. Pilots maybe, people operating heavy equipment, cases where you'd ideally administer an sobriety test on the spot but it's not cost effective. Other than that, fuck a piss test.

Let's end th
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-sciences
Outstanding ethnography. Easily one of the most important books of this decade and a crucial starting part (along w/Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow) for understanding the interplay of race, inequality, and criminal justice. ...more
Aug 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-read
This book is compelling for sure. I first heard about it on the New York Times Review of Books podcast. And I think the subject matter at hand is a very important one. The mass incarceration and policing of certain segments of the population is a problem. Coming from a privileged perspective, it's hard to say how much of this book speaks to the truth about the experiences of those living in a community such as 6th Street. Though at one point in the beginning of the book, Mike has charges leveled ...more
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In her preface to the results of her six years of fieldwork in Philadelphia, Goffman writes, “This book is an on-the-ground of the US prison boom: a close-up look at young men and women living in one poor and segregated Black community transformed by unprecedented levels of imprisonment and by the more hidden systems of policing and supervision that have accompanied them. Because of the fear of capture and confinement has seeped into the basic activities of daily living—work, family, romance, fr ...more
This book reads like what it apparently is: an academic thesis or dissertation. The author did extensive field work -- meaning she lived with and among her subjects in a poor Black neighborhood in Philadelphia -- for more than a decade. Her argument is that many poor Black men are living for years as fugitives from the law due to the aggressive policing in those neighborhoods. She definitely makes her case, but unfortunately the books reads like a college paper. She doggedly supports each argume ...more
Jim Robles
Sep 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
The combination of our pernicious drug laws and advanced technology have trapped a significant portion in a permanent underclass. In previous generations it was possible to move into the "legitimate world," after a questionable early life. We have blocked that path, and we need to unblock it.

The sixty-fifth book I have finished this year.

p. 37. Mike, Chuck, and their friends came to see danger and risk in the routine doings of everyday life. They learned to fear the police, and to regard the cou
Blair Conrad
Dec 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, nonfiction, kpl
A good book, full of important information. It really opened my eyes to how problems with the law can affect not only the young urban black men who first commit an infraction, but their families and loved ones, and for their entire lives. The book showed me that while it's easy for an outsider to dismiss their problems as being of their own making, the justice system really does make it harder for affected people to go clean and better their situation once they've committed an infraction, nearly ...more
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't know how academically rigorous the book is - although the methodological notes were almost as interesting as the actual story, I think she should put it the beginning of the book to give the stories more background. I don't know how typical the experiences of the 6th Street Boys are compared with the rest of the typical inner city population - although, given the incarceration rate of black men and the sheer number of them processed in the criminal justice system, I can't imagine that it ...more
Unfortunately, this is going to be a short review, since I am exhausted. This book is eye-opening, to be sure, but I found myself questioning some of it. In particular, Goffman's claim that an eleven-year-old (Tim) was sentenced to three years of probation because he was riding in a car that turned out to be stolen. Uhh, that's not a crime in Pennsylvania (unless you took a part in stealing the car, which according to Goffman, he didn't - the person driving the car wasn't even aware that the car ...more
Dino Mascolo
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book caught my attention because it was rated as one of the best non-fictions of 2014 on Goodreads. My intentions for reading this book was to get a better understanding of what it's like to be a young black man living in the inner city. It's amazing what the author went through researching this. The dedication to getting details right and the integrity of telling it like it really is, without an agenda, is why it gets 5 stars from me. I was very careful not to read any other reviews, other ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Readers might be aghast at some of Goffman's behavior, but, in the end, to be accepted and trusted in the neighborhood, Goffman, had to do everything possible to blend in (an impossibility really, but she did her best). So, you'll hear no complaints from me regarding the path she travelled to bring to us a compelling story of the day-to-day difficulties faced by many who live on the wrong side of the law. Some readers will be unsympathetic to their plight, but I do not think sympathy is Goffman' ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
I try to look at both sides of the issue, having a son as a White Cop but, this author/researcher was quite biased. Several incidents where I feel she actually was involved in aiding and abetting but... I guess her white privilege let her off the hook.
Carmen Petaccio
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
One of the great chroniclers of the African American experience, second only to Rachel Kushner.
Feb 20, 2015 added it
Recommended to Elizabeth by: FCS book club
I don't love that it's a white woman writing this book (a fact I'm not sure I realized when we first selected this for bookclub -- as my criteria have included: author shares the marginalized identity [race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.] of the book's protagonist/s).

I also wasn't really sold by her assertion that she was doing something super novel in her research here (surely there is already a wide body of literature about the policing of poor black communities and the impacts thereon?).

« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence
  • Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation
  • Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion
  • Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
  • The Established and the Outsiders
  • Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo
  • The Normal Chaos of Love
  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
  • Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual
  • The Spectacular Favela: Violence in Modern Brazil
  • The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe
  • Het zijn net mensen: beelden uit het Midden-Oosten
  • Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City
  • Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight
  • The Last Man in Tehran (Kyra Stryker & Jonathan Burke, #4)
  • Red Cell (Kyra Stryker & Jonathan Burke, #1)
  • The Treadstone Resurrection (Treadstone, #1)
  • Storm Clouds over the Pacific, 1931–41 (War in the Far East)
See similar books…
See top shelves…

Other books in the series

Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries (1 - 10 of 19 books)
  • A Place on the Corner, Second Edition
  • Doormen
  • Market Day in Provence
  • Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths
  • On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters
  • A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity
  • Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys
  • The Tour Guide: Walking and Talking New York
  • Saving Babies?: The Consequences of Newborn Genetic Screening
  • The Global Pigeon

News & Interviews

  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
32 likes · 9 comments
“Together, the chapters make the case that historically high imprisonment rates and the intensive policing and surveillance that have accompanied them are transforming poor Black neighborhoods into communities of suspects and fugitives. A climate of fear and suspicion pervades everyday life, and many residents live with the daily concern that the authorities will seize them and take them away. A new social fabric is emerging under the threat of confinement: one woven in suspicion, distrust, and the paranoiac practices of secrecy, evasion, and unpredictability.” 3 likes
“Thus, the great paradox of a highly punitive approach to crime control is that it winds up criminalizing so much of daily life as to foster widespread illegality as people work to circumvent it. Intensive policing and the crime it intends to control become mutually reinforcing. The extent to which crime elicits harsh policing, or policing itself contributes to a climate of violence and illegality, becomes impossible to sort out.” 2 likes
More quotes…