I regularly buy books but I rarely read them. I’m making a conscious effort to rectify that – not only because of the expense of purchasing them, but because reading books is (for me at least) a different type of experience to reading online. I read slower and more carefully, thus absorbing the general flow and patter of a writing style in addition to the content.
The most recent book I have read (for recreation) is Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Being an avid viewer of The Wire (but having not seen either The Corner nor Homicide: Life on the Street) a couple of situations and stories were recognisable (see the video at the bottom of the post – no spoilers). However, the book is so well written that it can be enjoyed irrespective of previous viewing.
The book is divided into 12 chapters – one per month. It is written by David Simon, at the time a reporter on the Baltimore Sun, and follows his year working as a police intern alongside the 15 Homicide detectives (and 3 sergeants) in Lieutenant D’Addario’s shift.
Three elements to the book that were particularly well depicted include
1. The problem solving – a crime scene is a mystery with a clock ticking. The officers have to quickly look for evidence and witnesses as, although a person can only be murdered once, a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times. The book depicts the different ways in which people approach the mystery – it can be methodical, lucky or inspired.
2. The humanity – each person has his (and they are nearly all men) own distinct personality and method. These are not always compatible – yet disagreements are shown from both sides and judgements aren’t made. Sometimes these are resolved and sometimes they are not, but motivations and reasoning of each participant have always been considered.
3. The culture – it feels like a real city, with enclaves of different sub-cultures. The police know that some people don’t talk to them about an investigation, while others talk too much. The situations and the people are all well-realised, and fit together into a larger entity.
In many respects, David Simon was an anthropologist or an ethnographer on his assignment. The book is a successful narrative that not only combines the individual case studies and character investigations, but extrapolates them to a functioning interrelated environment.It is much more than a true crime story; it is a story about people.
He doesn’t castigate or sensationalise. It goes beyond reporting. He strives to understand.
That should be the aspiration for any researcher, strategist or marketer that is responsible for understanding a particular segment or sub-group.