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Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,115 ratings  ·  309 reviews
Recreating his childhood world in the South Bronx and examining current crime legislation, the author offers an analysis of how a chain of events set in motion by 1960s drug laws has led to the child violence on the streets today.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 9th 1996 by Beacon Press (MA) (first published 1995)
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4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,115 ratings  ·  309 reviews

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Kressel Housman
Steven Levitt gave this book high praise when the Freakonomics podcast did an episode on gun control, calling it, “One of the best books I’ve ever read.” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a moving call to action on the issues of urban poverty and violence. It’s written as a personal memoir, so author Geoffrey Canada describes his own childhood in the South Bronx and the formative lessons he got about fighting. “Killers are made,” he argues. Sometimes they’re made in an army barracks, and s ...more
Feb 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Moving, touching and inspiring. Explains the culture of violence in inner-city America, not trying to excuse it. The author has dedicated his life to trying to change that culture in a neighborhood. Will he succeed on a larger scale? I fear not, but knowing that someone who has been there is still there acting with love makes a beacon. More personal than sociological. A good companion piece to Kenneth Bancroft Clark's earlier Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power and Claude Brown's Manchild in t ...more
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Part autobiography and part sociological study, this book is a fast read but is memorable. The themes of this book, poverty, racism, violence, education, are deep and resonate. But it is the writing, the humor, the clear thought and honesty that make the book a great read, and drive home the more important points. Outside of being a good writer though, Geoffrey Canada is a real hero who is using innovative solutions to address very difficult inner-city problems.

Badly Drawn Girl
Feb 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
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
Jane Burger
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
We had a good book discussion on this author's personal account of growing up in the Bronx in the 60s-70s and the violence that was as much a part of his life as recess was for me. Really insightful and relevant today despite the book being written in the mid 90s.
Joseph Espinoza
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked the book because it talks about his life and what he had to live through and what the struggle was for him while he was growing up. He got very detailed about what he wrote and I like how he shows his emotions while he wrote this book. I liked most that no matter how hard times were for him he found a way to get him and his brothers threw it all and tried his best for his brothers to have a good life. I didn't like how he didn't talk about his mother and what she did for him and his bro ...more
Veronica Cepellos
The only reason it took me so long to read this is because I got caught up in other things; otherwise, I would have flown through it in a matter of hours.

Canada tells a compelling story that is part-memoir, part-call-to-action. Often painful to read, his story vacillates between his reflections on his own experiences (and how those lessons equipped him for the battle he would later fight) and the deterioration of communities in urban centers in the wake of the 80s crack epidemic (and the war he
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A smart, honest account of life on the streets of the South Bronx in the late 50's/early 60's, integrated with accounts of street life in America's inner cities in the mid-90's (when it was written) and ideas for how things might be turned around. Very moving, very adept at shifting decades throughout, and sadly, very prescient, as the author correctly guessed that if we do nothing of use, the violence will only increase. Incredible and capital-I Important.
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The structure of the inner city life is something I can not comprehend. The best part about reading this book was learning about the author and seeing what change and impact he has made in the lives of the students that have had the opportunity to study at his school. This man's story is heavy and yet he lived before guns became prevalent. I can't imagine what kind of fear children today deal with in those communities.
Steve Whiting
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fairly quick read, in large part because it is also such a compelling read that it's hard to put down. Canada details his own background as a ghetto-raised child with a life of daily exposure to violence, and weaves in his later life trying to push back the cycle of gun-violence in inner cities.

He makes a strong case for active intervention & strong role models in preference to punishement & incarceration, both in ethical and monetary terms.

All in all, a very powerful book.
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Cornelio Salazar
so far i like the book because it is being relistic

Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Part biography, part in-depth look at violence in our nation, this is a gripping book. This is a history of the escalation of violence and the state of much of the urban part of the US. Definitely a good and fascinating set of topics.
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: future educators, anyone who cares about cities
Brought me closer to inside the head of every boy who is struggling to grow up in the inner city. Also, enlighting insight on why inner city neighborhoods have become exponentially more dangerous in the last 30 years.
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
it was good book it really showed me a few things about life
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: libs-678
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
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
The kids are not all right. Canada wants to help fix that.

That is to say, he wanted to, and he did. This book was originally published in 1995, and Canada's work with children, education, and non-violence (mainly via the Harlem Children's Zone) has cemented his place in contemporary history as an education expert (albeit subject to constructive criticism from Diane Ravitch, as pretty much everybody in education eventually is).

That being said, this book deserves to remain in your collection: do
Joseph Stieb
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Devin Jones
Oct 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I don't understand the book. The book reminds me of black lives matter
Jul 15, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: libs-678
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.

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
Dec 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
How does violence spread in cities? Where does the circle start? All violent criminals must have, at some point, been a sweet child who wants to love and be loved... right?

I think about that a lot because I momentarily tumbled through the world of random street violence. It's hard for me to trust that a black teenager doesn't want my head on the pavement... but I know that most people out walking just want to get back home to watch TV or see a loved one. Even though I was an outsider to the neig
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Fist Stick Knife Gun by Geoffrey Canada 1 9 Oct 10, 2011 09:07AM  
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
  • The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed
  • The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America
  • We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools
  • Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America
  • The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial
  • Death at an Early Age
  • More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
  • Cruel Britannia
  • Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America
  • True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall
  • Murder in the Name of Honor: The True Story of One Woman's Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime
  • The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom
  • 'I Won't Learn from You': And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment
  • A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison
  • Twenty Years at Hull House
  • Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago
  • Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the Twenty-First Century
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.
“Americans have been slaughtering one another in record numbers, in what can only be called America’s secret war against itself.” 0 likes
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