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Alice Goffman undertook a massive project for her academic dissertation in sociology - an ethnographic study documenting the lives of a group of people living in a predominately black, crime ridden neighborhood in Philadelphia. She ended up doing more than documenting - she lived in and around the 'hood for six years, becoming roommates with two of the young men who figure prominently in her book.
Goffman ends up being accepted as part of the scenery in the pseudonymous 6th Street, welcomed by a group of young men and their families to document their lives. And those lives are full of trouble - crime, drugs, poverty, arrests, warrants and any other number of hardships. Goffman immerses herself in part their lives, crossing the impartial observer line in many cases to become a participant.
Her statistics regarding young, poor black men are frightening. This book does serve to underscore what we see almost every day on news feeds. We also get to know the friends and families of this core group. Goffman does also make connections with people in the neigbourhood who are 'clean' and trying to make a good life without the crime, guns etc. These subjects are just as interesting, but receive less focus.
I did find that some stories were repeated in more than one chapter - Goffman seems to be using certain compelling incidents to illustrate numerous points she wants to highlight. I found the appendix of her own journey to and through the book quite fascinating.
On the Run is an accounting from one side of the street. There are some questions as to the veracity of some of the anecdotes and interactions that Goffman describes. Some of her own motives, behaviors and recollections have been called into question. Despite that, On the Run does provide much food for thought - and discussion.
Robin Miles was the narrator. She has a voice that is easy to listen to, clear and well modulated She is able to emphasize and empathize with a change in tenor and tone. She's also able to provide suitable voices when one of the subjects of the book is 'speaking'. I thought she interpreted the book well
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
This book is a repackaged sociology PhD thesis. It sets forth the results of research by a white, female student who embedded herself for several years in the world of young African-American men living in a poor urban neighborhood, many of whom are on probation or parole or have outstanding arrest warrants. She seeks to understand how their lives, and the lives of their families and neighborhood, are affected by this fact.
Some parts of the book are dense. True to its form, the book is organized thematically rather than as a continuous narrative. Moreover, the author devotes some space to a careful and sophisticated consideration of how problematic the project is. So, it requires some initial patience and persistence on the part of the reader. It cannot be listened to (or read) in a single sitting.
But as we get to know the principal characters and their stories, the book acquires the resonance, narrative arc and momentum of a tragic novel. The final chapter--a methodological appendix in which the author merely explains how she tried to embed herself in this world and to function as an invisible observer--tells the most powerful and shocking stories of all.
The artfulness of this book--and it is very artful and well written--lies in its appearance of artlessness. It presents itself as a PhD thesis that just happens to grip the reader with the power of a novel.
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This book is a very good companion to Jill Leovy’s ‘Ghettoside,’ which is also available as an audio book. The two books describe the same phenomenon but from opposite sides of the blue line. Curiously, Leovy, a journalist who set out successfully to write popular true crime non-fiction with police officers as heroes, is the more analytical of the two. She provides an explanation of how wrong-headed policing values and policies have had bad consequences and how different values and policies might have different consequences. Goffman, the academic, has told the more affecting set of human stories, stories that illustrate the consequences of the values and policies that Leovy describes
Having just finished Ghettoside, I bought this book and found it equally insightful and moving. An amazing piece of work.
Do you think you even suspect what is going on in the US? I didn't. This book made me angry, made me cry, and made me feel ashamed of believing that finally Americans and the American government were really coming to terms with their racist history. I assume there must be similar books about other ethnic groups, Latinos, Asian, etc but I haven't gotten there yet. This really shows how the judicial system, the policing state and cultural ignorance can do to less favoured groups.
I'm ashamed! And I don't even live there!
A strong reading, I really recommend it, and hope you have the mindset to understand and accept the message it delivers.