Whatever It Takes

Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America

An engrossing look at the Harlem Children’s Zone, a comprehensive array of programs designed to change the lives of poor children. A review of this book is available.

336 pages. ©2009.
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Reader Reviews for this Book


Review posted November 15, 2017


This book was outstanding! Based on real families in Harlem, and gives a continuum on how the children became successful despite the poverty that seemed to be evident as soon as Kindergarten. Canada's approach to research isn't just statistics, but scenarios that really count! Just amazing!

[email protected]

Review posted August 25, 2017


I really like the title, I like what was mentioned in the book, however I would like to see more to the story, I am curious to see what another book would be like if this was to have a part 2.


Review posted August 14, 2017


Paul Tough's, Whatever It Takes, surprised and inspired me. It clearly demonstrated the superiority of passion and singular vision over the harsh reality of poverty. Mr. Canada's unrelenting determination to make a difference in the lives of some of the most desperate children in America, serves as a morning bugle call to wake up and answer my own "impossible mission" for children.


Review posted July 27, 2017


This book made me think about how to apply the same early intervention, "conveyor belt" approach to rural areas. The issues of poverty and parental engagement are also prevalent here, as well as lack of parent education. While there are programs like Head Start, etc. that tackle one portion of the issue, it seems as though support for rural kids is limited beyond these programs. Many rural schools are also economically challenged and therefore do not have the resources to add extra services for students (especially when the principal is the teacher, cook, and bus driver). What kind of coordination and investment would it take to bring about major changes in the resources/support that is available for our rural children? And how could that change bring about greater community-wide changes that would give successful students a place to return to?


Review posted July 6, 2017


This book is so inspiring... I work in the education sector and this book gave me so inspiration to keep fighting the good fight! Most definitely worth the read!!


Review posted January 28, 2017


Paul Tough does a great job of capturing the heart of Geoffrey Canada and his desire to dedicate his life to change his corner of the world. Personal stories make it engaging and not just facts and figures. Hopefully inspires readers to start or come alongside efforts in their communities to help others.


Review posted November 6, 2016


Powerful and moving book. It's worth the read.

Karen Harlow

Review posted April 27, 2016


Canada's book is very well written, but definitely highlights the challenges of making the playing field "even" for children living in not only poverty, but facing many other social, emotional challenges as well. The goal of Canada to transform 97 blocks of the toughest streets of Harlem, through educating the entire community makes gains by creating charter schools and teaching parents and students with the same philosophy but falls short in the end; highlighting just how enormous a challenge it is to change an entire culture.


Review posted April 25, 2016


Really well written and informative book- great for anyone interested in education inequality or inner-city youth development. Canada is an extremely interesting man and I thought the book was well researched, informative and easy to follow.


Review posted March 22, 2016


Fabulous book on teaching people to be successful, in every aspect of their lives while overcoming poverty. Geoffrey Canada is a true hero


Review posted February 13, 2016


Following the development of the Harlem Children's Zone in chronological order was an interesting and engaging way to structure this book as it captured the highs and lows, successes and challenges, and hard questions that Geoffrey Canada and his colleagues faced. I do wish the book would've addressed some issues with a more critical lens - the book talks a lot about the goal of building a safety net of services woven so tightly that no child could slip through, and that is a challenging and important goal. However it seems like more discussion about why we need the net in the first place would've made the discussion even more rich. Overall I would recommend this book for people feeling frustrated that social services are so disconnected and unevaluated.


Review posted December 16, 2015


Wonderful and eye opening book for people of all kinds. Remarkable and inspiring story.


Review posted September 10, 2015


Great book!! Definately allows the reader to live threw his experiences. Never give up


Review posted August 29, 2015


Tough provides us a candid picture of Geoffrey Canada's ambitious effort to change the lives of children and families living in Harlem. Through a series of interventions, starting with parents of babies and toddlers, children are provided with quality preschool and parent workshops, followed by intensive charter schools, afterschool support, and college prep classes. The intent is that by providing an supportive and enriched environment, even the poorest children can and should have the opportunity to go on to college and have a future. Breaking the cycle of poverty early by meeting families where they live, and providing support and guidance can have a measurable effect on the outcomes of not only the children served, but the entire community.

Mr. Bizjak

Review posted August 17, 2015


Loved, loved, loved this book! "Whatever It Takes" cottoned well with my doctorate class on reinventing the educational enterprise!


Review posted July 30, 2015


I highly recommend this book, especially to anyone trying to make a difference in their community. This book examines Geoffrey Canada’s efforts to change the trajectory of every child’s life in Harlem. His undertaking is enormous. He does this by creating The Harlem Children’s Zone and attempting to recruit parents before their children are even born. There are classes for expecting parents, classes for 0-3 children, preschool, elementary school and middle school. His vision follows these kids from birth until they graduate from college. There are two very interesting areas where more information would have been helpful. Canada is able to raise enormous amounts of money to support his vision. I would have appreciated more information on this. When he had no programs in place, how did he get that first donor? Also, Canada focuses on a relatively small, urban geographical area. How can this kind of program be translated into the geographically larger and more rural character of an entire state? There is no sugar coating in this book. Canada tries to simultaneously start a kindergarten and a middle school program at the same time. They have to stop the Promise Academy middle school program. He found that starting with the kids in sixth grade was too late to have the kind of test scores and improvement that he and his investors, in particular, wanted. This was the most discouraging part of the book to read. It was especially hard to hear the stories of the kids who assumed they were going to continue at Promise Academy for 9th grade, but were then struggling to determine where to go to high school after having missed all the entrance exams. A welcome epilogue to this book would be to follow up with this group of kids.


Review posted June 19, 2015


Tough takes the story of the Harlem Children's Zone and delves into the rationale behind its founding and growth. It is written with interviews and site visits as primary sources and some economic papers referenced by others as secondary sources, although there are few in-depth economic discussions. The majority of the book profiles some recipients of the HCZ as well as Canada and some of his employees. Coming from an educational background, I completely agree with the idea of a conveyer-belt strategy to ensure growth as well as the more-haphazard strategy of catching as many adolescents as possible and steering them toward higher education. The book finds some fault in that it never interviews the large group of staffing that left with the first principal and first superintendent. This gives it the feeling of Canada's supremacy over the HCZ and a possible non-interest in exploring other strategies for improving the neighborhood. I think it would have been enhanced had teachers, Grey, and Land been able to freely explain their side of the story and their vision. The book spends a large focus on the middle school and only a few chapters on the elementary school, which seems more ready for replication than the middle. I would love to see an afterword by an education professional or Dean of Education commenting on the feasibility and steps to take in replicating this idea in other cities or neighborhoods.


Review posted January 30, 2015


This book is a thoughtfully written piece on the triumphs and tribulations of one man trying to change the way urban, inter-city education is executed. It examines the standing systems and it's downfalls and then attempts to create an all-encompassing cradle to graduation approach that combines community with education in order to help the student of this incredibly disadvantage area of the country to succeed. While nothing is perfect, the persistence shown in this book through multiple trials and failures and reassessments, is nothing short of incredible. Personally, many of the thoughts and philosophies exposed in the book are congruent with the way my small, rural community is trying to mobilize and attach chronic truancy issues. Addressing this issue as a community in a more wrap-around approach is a very new idea to many people, and I expect our community to be calling upon some of Geoffrey Canada's practices as inspiration.