Book Review: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think the book brings some interesting points to the table, especially on the impact of the proliferation of firearms, and the way they destroyed the previous order. He makes some good points about how firearms don’t really provide deterrence to violence, but instead increase chaos and instability, which breeds more violence. I do think Canada is a bit too nostalgic about the old days. While he readily accepts the brutality of the streets before the entry of firearms in mass, there is still a nostalgic sentiment of the supposed honor and controls that once existed in the pre-gun society. I think this book is a good companion to Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, which is a more in depth psychological look at the human roots of violence and cruelty.

Canada doesn’t go into great detail on the solutions to the challenges of poverty and violence and of breaking these vicious cycles. However, this is more due to the shortness of the book, and not due to a lack of practical knowledge of the policies that are being tried and are having some successes. He highlights some of the work that he has done in Boston and New York, but what you get from these positive stories is more an insight into Canada’s overall philosophy of community-centric investments focused on education and responsive services, than a concrete policy proposal. He seems happy to share his experiences as examples of ideas that might work, but is more interesting in trying to get the reader off the sidelines and involved in finding a solution to the problem.

Overall, this is a good look at issues surrounding violence in inner-cities in the U.S. Canada draws on a wealth of personal experiences having grown up in Brooklyn and having dedicated his life to trying to reclaim inner-city communities from endemic violence and poverty. It is interesting and easy to read.

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