In his classic book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser claimed that people and places were the twin pillars on which all good nonfiction is built. These three books - all with a local connection - prove that point. Their subjects qualify them as textbooks. Yet they are written so engagingly that any one of them could be beach reading. The secret lies in the authors' attention to detail, story line, character and setting.
Cop in the Hood By Peter Moskos
When former President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, he outlawed barbiturates, amphetamines and LSD. He also perhaps inadvertently set the stage for today's system of jailing drug offenders, costing $22,000 per prisoner per year - a total of $8 billion annually - while propelling robbery and murder statistics to record heights. After nearly 40 years, it's time to admit that this costly war has failed, says Peter Moskos in his Baltimore-based book, Cop in the Hood.
An assistant professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at the City University of New York, Moskos came to Baltimore while a Harvard University graduate student to gather "valid data on job-related police behavior." It took him three years to turn that data into a Ph.D. dissertation and another three years to write this account.
A Chicago native, Moskos knew Baltimore primarily from the films of John Waters and Barry Levinson, whose depictions of the city differ significantly from the conditions Moskos found. Moskos was both dismayed and fascinated by Baltimore's Eastern District, which he calls "one of the worst ghettos in America" in terms of "violence, drugs, abandonment, and despair," much of it caused by drugs.
Chronicling his six months training in the police academy and the 14 months he patrolled Baltimore's east side, Moskos blends academic writing with techniques of creative nonfiction. Moskos packs his account with anecdotes, details, dialogue and off-the-cuff observations about everything from the Baltimore dialect to ghetto slang to the recipe for crack.
Ultimately, his story is engaging as well as persuasive. As Moskos aptly puts it, "If [after all these years] the war on drugs were winnable, it would already be won."
June 30, 2008
"Engaging as Well as Persuasive"
So says Diane Scharper in the Baltimore Sun about my book, Cop in the Hood. Here's the whole review: