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Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore
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Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore (Crown Journeys Series)

3.15  ·  Rating Details ·  169 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
With a writer’s keen eye, a longtime resident’s familiarity, and his own sly wit, acclaimed novelist Madison Smartt Bell leads us on a walk through his adopted hometown of Baltimore, a city where crab cakes, Edgar Allan Poe, hair extensions, and John Waters movies somehow coexist. From its founding before the Revolutionary War to its place in popular culture—thanks to semi ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published November 6th 2007 by Crown (first published January 1st 2007)
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Megan Barnes
Dec 10, 2010 Megan Barnes rated it it was ok
I almost gave this one star for the glaring factual errors. Just from the Greenmount Avenue chapter, which is the route I am most familiar with, he places Pete's Grille on the corner of 34th St. instead of 32nd, and most unforgivably, calls The Yellow Bowl a Korean noodle restaurant instead of a culturally and historically important African-American establishment. Perhaps instead of just mentioning every five pages that he's been to Haiti and is so hip as to be the only white face in a jazz club ...more
Audrey Babkirk Wellons
Oct 03, 2007 Audrey Babkirk Wellons rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bawlmer lovers
First off, I'd just like to say: Is there anything Madison Smartt Bell can't do? He’s got a spoken-word CD, a trilogy about the Haitian slave uprising, a recent literary grant, and now a rambling tour of Baltimore that captures both his voice and a lot of the unseen charm of "Charm City." I lived in Baltimore for four years and in the nearby suburbs for four more; it was great to be reminded of familiar haunts, as well as discovering places I had never ventured. He mixes history and gossip and e ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Lani rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: my dad!
Shelves: borrowed, non-fiction
Picked this book up for my dad's Xmas present since he had really enjoyed his visit earlier this year. While I was waiting to be picked up, I started skimming the first few pages and got totally sucked in. I had to wrap up his copy, but fortunately Cristin had a copy herself.

Borrowed Cristin's copy and TORE THROUGH IT. I think my dad will love it.

The book is essentially a walking tour through some areas of Baltimore and includes the author's reflections, local history, and a lot of local flavor
Mar 05, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it
very nice addition to the crown journeys series Blues City: A Walk in Oakland you get lots of history of the city, interesting places to drink, eat, look at, dance at. a must read if one ever goes to charm city. gertrude stein went to school there, but that tidbit ties into the other book i read sunday, The Company They Kept, Volume Two: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships virgil thomson talks about stein and mentions these other folks from baltimore that i learned about in this book. round and ...more
Jun 04, 2008 Lara rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book
I really wanted to like this book - it's about Baltimore, particularly parts that I know and love. The author, a noted novelist who also teaches at Goucher, takes a number of walks through different stretches of Baltimore - a walk down York Road from Northern Parkway to the Inner Harbor, a walk up Charles Street (which I do myself at least thrre times a week), a walk through Dickeyville (never did this one but it sounds fun). What bothered me was there were a bunch of factual errors - he mention ...more
Chris Wharton
Four walks, actually, two in corridors I have driven often (York Road/Greenmount Avenue and Charles Street), one less so (Fells Point, often enough for me but not so much surrounding neighborhoods), and Dickeyville, a rural enclave at the city’s western edge I have read about but never been to. Enjoyable read, learned a lot about city places, personalities, history, but distracted by what I thought were occasional errors and poor copyediting. Part of the “Walk through …” series from Crown Journe ...more
Nov 02, 2011 Ken rated it it was ok
CHARM CITY is a mile wide, but only an inch deep. The book is chock full of detail, but the areas that I really enjoyed didn't last long enough, yet the sections that did not interest me, seemed to go on forever. I realize that to profile an entire city is a daunting task, yet I felt that, in the end, I was overwhelmed by the blizzard of information at the expense of my interest.

Maybe the book would have been more accessible if he had shared his 'walking tour' with only one other person, and th
Nov 16, 2007 Marianne rated it did not like it
Smartt Bell is some kinda literary god in Baltimore, and after reading this I know what kind: the kind who needs an editor. He can't leave out (even one!) parenthetical comment (you want parenthetical? there were infinitely better authors for this book.). This book only got a star because it's about Baltimore, hon.
Mar 11, 2008 Kyla rated it liked it
I love this Crown Journey series - authors escort you through their city, history and personal stories coming together. Baltimore is on my radar now that I live 4 hours down the road from it, know some people who are from there and have obsessively watched The Wire. I have a fondness for cities that are the scrappy little sister and are full of blue collar bars and falling down factories (see: my love of Portland, OR). Planning a trip to see Baltimore, I thought I would read this rather than a t ...more
Feb 19, 2016 Betsy rated it really liked it
This was a fun read for someone (like me) who likes to walk around in Baltimore. There are some interesting, obscure historical facts about the city that I didn't know about and the author made several observations that I found myself nodding in agreement with.

There were some smalltimore moments for me--he mentions the Glenmont Popes and my brother has played with them before--though I didn't know they ever had someone named Glen in the band. And in another chapter he talks about someone I went
Jonathan Norton
May 26, 2015 Jonathan Norton rated it it was ok
Bell takes a series of walks around Baltimore, the scene of his quite good 90s novel "Ten Indians". Because his perspective is at street-level he can only give us the sights and sounds to be found on walkabout, which mainly takes us to bars and restaurants and cultural spaces. He gives an historical commentary on the architectural changes, and he notes the economic trends of declining industry and urban gentrification. We don't get the full Wire panorama: schools are only briefly mentioned and t ...more
Heather Johnson
Feb 16, 2010 Heather Johnson rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I wish there had been a walk in west Baltimore (say just west of downtown besides the one out near the western border of the city)as well. I loved the history that went along with the walks and feel like I learned a lot about my city. It's also fun when you recognize people in the book, makes me feel like a true Baltimorean! If you are very familiar with the areas described you may notice some errors here and there but they are small and more irritants than full-blown ...more
Dec 03, 2007 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Not bad, nothing special. He covers a lot of ground, mileage wise, but if you know the city, you see that he covered a fairly narrow swath of land. In walking down Greenmount and then up Charles, he hits most of the important architectural landmarks but misses some cultural ones. The series seems like it's designed to give you the hip insider's look, but MSB misses the mark a little. There's a little too much I-dared-to-tread and reliance on his friends' childhoods, and the lumps of history have ...more
Jun 20, 2008 Jaclyn rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
While this was a good read for people who know and/or love Baltimore, I just didn't love it as much as I thought I would. Perhaps it was because Bell's walking companions were all pre-arranged and I feel that was, artistically speaking, an easy way out. Everyone knows everyone in Baltimore, it's not hard to make connections and arrange some quirky and quasi-famous tour guides if you've lived here for more than six months. A truly amazing journey would have involved some more chance meetings, new ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Spiros rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone with a mind to pick up Balmer trivia
Shelves: borrowed
An amiable, inconsequetial stroll through diverse neighborhoods of Baltimore. While teeming with various odd bits of trivia, the book doesn't give one much feel for the place, possibly because Bell is not in fact a native, having only lived in Baltimore just over twenty years. One senses that any of his walking companions might have produced a more insightful account of the city. A confessed non-sports fan, it is nevertheless odd that Balmer's most famous son, George Herman Ruth, doesn't rate a ...more
Alex Csicsek
Feb 25, 2014 Alex Csicsek rated it liked it
This is a nice little book but the style gets in the way of enjoying the read. It's at its best when it uses Baltimore's rich architecture as an excuse to go on tangents about the city's fascinating history or its cultural quirks, but this is interrupted by unnecessarily long passages which assure us readers that the author is a real cool guy who used to play jazz. As a homesick Baltimorean in a faraway land, definitely worth the read, but if you're still in town probably better off downloading ...more
Jul 14, 2008 Andrew rated it did not like it
Shelves: travel, history
Boring. Smartt Bell never captures my imagination for Baltimore. I realized quickly that this was not supposed to be a travel guide, but does he not want me to come visit there? History is always great and I found Baltimore's interesting. It was the antecdotes and personal history of his friends that really made me frustrated with this book. Furthermore, if I went to Gouster college and found out that my fifty year old professor walked around town in a denim jacket with french phrases ironed on ...more
Apr 20, 2009 Jeannette rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable, and quick, read. I'm not sure how much I would have enjoyed it if I didn't know the Baltimore area at all but thankfully I know the area. The author has a great conversational writing style and you almost feel like you are walking around with him. The mixture of his personal views and the historical background is well balanced. I would definitely recommend this to any Baltimorean.
Dec 15, 2007 Jennifer rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Baltimorons, hon!
Recommended to Jennifer by: The New York Times
Shelves: travel
I'm not really sure how to characterize this book and am not familiar of the series it is in--"Walks Through Different Cities." I found the writing kind of quirky, in a bad way, and awkward at times, but as a former Balti-moron for seven years, really appreciated all of the random factoids and trivia about Charm City. Had I not lived there for as long as I did, the book would have held zero appeal for me. Only current and former Baltimoreans need apply...
Jun 30, 2015 Grace rated it liked it
maybe one day i'll pick this book up again, but as someone who just wants to know baltimore a little bit better while living nearby but only traveling to it maybe once a month...the book is frustratingly visual but not visual enough. i like the concept - literally, just an author ambling through different neighborhoods and whatnot, attempting to tell snapshots of peoples and buildings passing by, but it was just that -- little blurbs rather than a full narrative that drew me in.
Jun 15, 2008 Robin rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I "borrowed" this from Genevieve (yes, it was out on your end table) and kept asking myself why I continued to read it. I kept hoping that Bell would tell me something I didn't already know about Baltimore besides irrelevant details of his friends and acquaintances' lives. Gen did warn me, so I have only myself to blame.... I guess someone who knows virtually nothing about Baltimore might enjoy it. If they can get past Bell's self-aggrandizing style. Who edits this series?
Jan 15, 2013 Rachel rated it did not like it
Meh. Interesting to learn about my new city, but the book itself was nothing special. Bell focused more than necessary on certain aspects of the city and brushed over things that sparked my interest, and his writing style wasn't terribly engaging. I will admit though, I have a longer list of places to see after reading the book. So it was not totally in vain!
Jul 22, 2008 Chad rated it really liked it
Shelves: documentary, travel
Pretty fun and easy read with lots of tips for Baltimore eating spots and an even better historical focus. Segments bored me, but for the most part it was a nice read during my short stay in Baltimore - and it landed me at more than a few of my now-favorite places to eat.
Aug 28, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing
this is my favorite so far in the Crown Journeys series. I'm very fond of Baltimore and enjoyed learning more about its history. He walks the whole town, with a different friend/resident in each neighborhood and comments on all the people and institutions and landmarks he encounters
Jul 02, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Baltimoreans/newbies
A good read for those with some attachment to/interest in Baltimore. I like that it's not a guide, which makes it a lot easier to enjoy. But, like I said, you pretty much have to be moving to (like me), living in, or already have lived in Baltimore to really get into it.
Sep 03, 2009 Sarah rated it it was ok
A bit disappointing, really. Bell's writing wasn't as engaging as in his biographies or novels. I'm not sure I want to walk with him (not that he's asking)--and he seems to stop FREQUENTLY for drinks!
Dec 25, 2012 Cknot1sk rated it it was ok
i loved learning more about baltimore; i even added a few new things to my must-see list. unfortunately the author tried to be loftier than necessary for such a book. i was a bit bored at times with his ramblings.
Dec 30, 2008 Anthony rated it really liked it
A Baltimore walking tour, written by a neighbor
Just really curious about this book, Baltimore, what give the the HBO show "The Wire' that feel, John Waters, etc. A friend of mine from Baltimore once told me "Everyone who is from B-more is crazy."
Dec 07, 2009 Vanessa rated it really liked it
Interesting book about Bmore. However, I don't know if I would have been too interested if not currently living in Bmore. Informative though!
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Madison Smartt Bell is a critically acclaimed writer of more than a dozen novels and story collections, as well as numerous essays and reviews for publications such as Harper’s and the New York Times Book Review. His books have been finalists for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, among other honors. Bell has also taught at distinguished creative writing programs including th ...more
More about Madison Smartt Bell...

Other Books in the Series

Crown Journeys Series (1 - 10 of 15 books)
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  • Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown
  • After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti
  • City of the Soul: A Walk in Rome
  • Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital
  • Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg (Crown Journeys)
  • Blues City: A Walk in Oakland
  • Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park (Crown Journeys)
  • Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket (Crown Journeys)
  • Never a City So Real: A Walk in Chicago

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