Did Omar Little die of lead poisoning? Would a decriminalization strategy like the one in Hamsterdam end the War on Drugs? What will it take to save neglected kids like Wallace and Dukie? Tapping into 'The Wire' uses the acclaimed television series as a road map for exploring connections between inner-city poverty and drug-related violence. Past Baltimore City health commissioner Peter Beilenson teams up with former Baltimore Sun reporter Patrick A. McGuire to deliver a compelling, highly readable examination of urban policy and public health issues affecting cities across the nation. Each chapter recounts scenes from episodes of the HBO series, placing the characters' challenges into the broader context of public policy.
A candid interview with the show’s co-creator David Simon reveals that one of the intentions of the series is to expose gross failures of public institutions, including criminal justice, education, labor, the news media, and city government. Even if readers haven’t seen the series, the book’s detailed summaries of scenes and characters brings them up to speed and engages them in both the story and the issues. With a firm grasp on the hard truths of real-world problems, Tapping into 'The Wire' helps undo misconceptions and encourage a dialogue of understanding.
While the popular HBO series The Wire was celebrated for its nuanced look at the institutions that ran and often failed the city of Baltimore, it proves a thin organizing device for Beilenson and McGuire's study of Baltimore's administrative policy and war on drugs. Narrated by Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner between 1992 and 2005, each chapter begins with a description of a scene or scenes from the HBO show and describes a corresponding real-life problem and related initiative that Beilenson introduced during his tenure. Although the authors' accounts of needle exchange programs and preventative initiatives, such as Operation Safe Kids, offer informative descriptions of civic-minded leadership overcoming political hurdles, the endless list of Beilenson's achievements soon starts to read as a litany of self-gratification. Worse, the authors' insistence on prefacing every discussion with corresponding incidents from The Wire proves both unnecessary and increasingly strained as the book progresses, culminating in speculation that one young assassin on the show may have been afflicted with lead poisoning despite little evidence. Add in pedestrian prose that occasionally tries for strained literary significance and the result is a misguided book that nonetheless manages to offer some valuable insider insight into important municipal policy issues.