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Floating City: Gangster, Schlepper, Callgirls und andere unglaubliche Unternehmer in New Yorks Untergrundökonomie

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Sudhir Venkatesh führt eigentlich zwei Leben. Einmal ist er Soziologieprofessor an der Columbia University in New York. Ein andermal ist er Feldforscher in den gesetzlosen Welten der Gauner, Dealer und Callgirls. In diesem Spannungsfeld spielt `Floating City, das letzte und in den USA gefeierte Buch des indischen Soziologen. Die Weltpresse reagierte begeistert: `Journalism Sudhir Venkatesh führt eigentlich zwei Leben. Einmal ist er Soziologieprofessor an der Columbia University in New York. Ein andermal ist er Feldforscher in den gesetzlosen Welten der Gauner, Dealer und Callgirls. In diesem Spannungsfeld spielt `Floating City´, das letzte und in den USA gefeierte Buch des indischen Soziologen. Die Weltpresse reagierte begeistert: `Journalismus auf höchstem Niveau´, schrieb die New York Times. New York ist die schwebende Stadt. Mit einem fein gesponnenen Netzwerk zwischen den Wohlhabenden der feinen Gesellschaft und den verzweifelten Immigranten oder bettelarmen Einheimischen. In verborgenen Ecken und Winkeln begegnet man sich. Hier setzt Venkatesh an und sucht die Schnittstellen, die Arm und Reich verbinden. Zum Beispiel Callgirls aus begütertem Haus, die ihren Prostitutionsalltag selbst organisieren. Oder Dealer, die vordergründig Kunstausstellungen und die Kulturbourgeoisie unterstützen, gleichzeitig das Publikum mit Drogen versorgen. Venkatesh ist Chronist, leidenschaftlicher Beobachter und mitfühlender Interviewer gleichzeitig. Und zwar mittendrin statt nur dabei.

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Sudhir Venkatesh führt eigentlich zwei Leben. Einmal ist er Soziologieprofessor an der Columbia University in New York. Ein andermal ist er Feldforscher in den gesetzlosen Welten der Gauner, Dealer und Callgirls. In diesem Spannungsfeld spielt `Floating City, das letzte und in den USA gefeierte Buch des indischen Soziologen. Die Weltpresse reagierte begeistert: `Journalism Sudhir Venkatesh führt eigentlich zwei Leben. Einmal ist er Soziologieprofessor an der Columbia University in New York. Ein andermal ist er Feldforscher in den gesetzlosen Welten der Gauner, Dealer und Callgirls. In diesem Spannungsfeld spielt `Floating City´, das letzte und in den USA gefeierte Buch des indischen Soziologen. Die Weltpresse reagierte begeistert: `Journalismus auf höchstem Niveau´, schrieb die New York Times. New York ist die schwebende Stadt. Mit einem fein gesponnenen Netzwerk zwischen den Wohlhabenden der feinen Gesellschaft und den verzweifelten Immigranten oder bettelarmen Einheimischen. In verborgenen Ecken und Winkeln begegnet man sich. Hier setzt Venkatesh an und sucht die Schnittstellen, die Arm und Reich verbinden. Zum Beispiel Callgirls aus begütertem Haus, die ihren Prostitutionsalltag selbst organisieren. Oder Dealer, die vordergründig Kunstausstellungen und die Kulturbourgeoisie unterstützen, gleichzeitig das Publikum mit Drogen versorgen. Venkatesh ist Chronist, leidenschaftlicher Beobachter und mitfühlender Interviewer gleichzeitig. Und zwar mittendrin statt nur dabei.

30 review for Floating City: Gangster, Schlepper, Callgirls und andere unglaubliche Unternehmer in New Yorks Untergrundökonomie

  1. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Seymour

    This book could have easily been called "how Sudhir Venkatesh went to learn about New York's underground economy and wound up learning much more about himself." I found this to be a frustrating read because the author is at the center of what could have been an interesting look at the sex and drug trade in New York. He tells the readers that he is doing a study, how many interviews he has done, and even goes in depth on a handful of his subjects, but his conclusions are flimsy and seem to be bas This book could have easily been called "how Sudhir Venkatesh went to learn about New York's underground economy and wound up learning much more about himself." I found this to be a frustrating read because the author is at the center of what could have been an interesting look at the sex and drug trade in New York. He tells the readers that he is doing a study, how many interviews he has done, and even goes in depth on a handful of his subjects, but his conclusions are flimsy and seem to be based on the few people he does talk about. It turns out Venkatesh's favorite subject is himself, a point driven home by the trite college entrance essay self-revelations he makes in the book's final chapter. I am sure he did some solid research but it was not presented in this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    I found Floating City a fascinating read. This is one of those rare nonfiction books that educates, enlightens, and entertains. Venkatesh's writing is never dry or dull. He invites us along on his journey, and writes as if he's confiding in a friend. Through Venkatesh, we meet a wide variety of people, most of whom are involved in some aspect of the sex trade. We get to know spoiled rich kids in search of adventure, as well as the desperate and poor who are struggling to survive. Their stories a I found Floating City a fascinating read. This is one of those rare nonfiction books that educates, enlightens, and entertains. Venkatesh's writing is never dry or dull. He invites us along on his journey, and writes as if he's confiding in a friend. Through Venkatesh, we meet a wide variety of people, most of whom are involved in some aspect of the sex trade. We get to know spoiled rich kids in search of adventure, as well as the desperate and poor who are struggling to survive. Their stories are woven together in unexpected ways, sometimes challenging our stereotypes and other times reinforcing them. But this book is much more than a look at the underground economy. Venkatesh struggles with his own boundaries. His work as a sociologist requires him to maintain an emotional distance, while his humanity makes it almost impossible for him to remain a passive observer. As he studies the behavior of others, he learns some things about himself. If we're paying attention, we'll learn a few things as well.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is a pretty interesting journey into the underbelly of New York. At least from a voyeuristic point of view. Sudhir Venkatesh brings his readers from the high-class escort services of the city all the way down to the street level prostitution and drug rackets. The only problem is that the second story, just like the subtitle, overpowers the book: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. While the academic side of me appreciates his pains to tell us that it's all f This is a pretty interesting journey into the underbelly of New York. At least from a voyeuristic point of view. Sudhir Venkatesh brings his readers from the high-class escort services of the city all the way down to the street level prostitution and drug rackets. The only problem is that the second story, just like the subtitle, overpowers the book: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. While the academic side of me appreciates his pains to tell us that it's all for a study, and explain in some detail his methodology, and work his career into his story, and describe modern sociology, it's just too much. That invisible fourth wall between performer and audience completely breaks down, resulting in some narrative disintegration. So read this for the content, as well as some revealing insights into the grey economy. But don't look too hard for a narrative flow. Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_A_Taubman

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    What a difference a title makes, or even a subtitle. The version I read, the US edition which I received as a review copy, had the subtitle “A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy.” This irritated me throughout the book, because I kept expecting Sudhir Venkatesh to “go rogue”, and he never did. He perhaps got a bit more emotionally involved with his subjects than sociologists are supposed to, but he was always scrupulous about not affecting the outcomes, about being What a difference a title makes, or even a subtitle. The version I read, the US edition which I received as a review copy, had the subtitle “A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy.” This irritated me throughout the book, because I kept expecting Sudhir Venkatesh to “go rogue”, and he never did. He perhaps got a bit more emotionally involved with his subjects than sociologists are supposed to, but he was always scrupulous about not affecting the outcomes, about being ethical and honest and reading people their rights before starting any interview. He was just a sociologist doing his research. It seemed to me that the “rogue” tag had been stuck on to make the book seem more enticing. Fortunately the UK edition has the less catchy but much more accurate subtitle “Hustlers, Strivers, Dealers, Call Girls and Other Lives in Illicit New York”. So we’ll leave the “rogue” issue alone. What this book does very well is to get under the skin of New York City and explore the lives of people in the underworld. It’s written more as a memoir than as a work of sociology, so there are plenty of real-life stories and no tedious footnotes. I enjoyed the connections Venkatesh makes between the drug dealers and porn-shop clerks he studies and the “above-ground” economy. "These people were seekers. As much as the peppiest young entrepreneur in any Silicon Valley garage, they dreamed of changing their worlds. And in their daily lives as ordinary citizens and consumers, their illegitimate earnings helped many legitimate businesses stay afloat. In that sense, they were pillars of the community." He shows the impromptu communities that spring up within these criminal and marginal worlds, the unexpected ties that bind people to each other, even if only for a time. The floating city refers to the fluidity of many people’s lives in a global city like New York, the lack of ties to particular neighbourhoods or other traditional social structures, the formation of more temporary communities. Mortimer, an ageing john, is touchingly cared for by local prostitutes as he recovers from a stroke. Manjun’s porn store becomes a safe haven for sex workers. People come and go, and the communities spring up in unlikely places before dying or moving on. It’s an interesting phenomenon to watch. One fault in the book, though, is the way that Venkatesh makes himself the main character in the book, and then does nothing much of any interest. It’s fine to get some insight into his research techniques and his ethical dilemmas, but it goes way too far. There are too many passages where he’s worrying about where he’s going to get his next interview from, or panicking over his project’s lack of direction, and it’s just not very compelling stuff. Here’s one example among many: "Whatever hopes I might have had about documenting the collision of worlds began to blow away in that cold autumn wind. I’d have to find another way to chart the connections the global city forged among disparate social types." He’s clearly trying to make himself into a character with something important at stake, but it doesn’t really work. He also mentions a few times that his marriage is breaking apart, but tells us almost nothing about why or how or even who his wife is – we just get generalisations about being young when they got married and now having changing priorities. It feels as if the author is trying to make himself into an interesting character, but doesn’t want to reveal too much of his personal life. The overall effect of this is to make the book feel a bit flat. There’s plenty of drama in the lives of the people Venkatesh is studying, and if he’d just related their stories, it would have worked better. Instead we spend a lot of time inside the head of an anxious sociologist, and it’s not a good place to be. So this book is recommended for its insights into the New York City underworld, but marred by its choice of focus.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    Most GR reviewers don't seem to like Sudhir Venkatesh's second "pop" book as much as Gang Leader for a Day, and while it didn't move me quite as much either, particularly at the end, it was still a page-turner full of compelling true stories. The book picks up where Gang Leader for a Day left off. Finished with his grad school work at the University of Chicago, Professor Venkatesh is now taking a job at Columbia University in New York. The main theme of the book is that unlike Chicago, where s Most GR reviewers don't seem to like Sudhir Venkatesh's second "pop" book as much as Gang Leader for a Day, and while it didn't move me quite as much either, particularly at the end, it was still a page-turner full of compelling true stories. The book picks up where Gang Leader for a Day left off. Finished with his grad school work at the University of Chicago, Professor Venkatesh is now taking a job at Columbia University in New York. The main theme of the book is that unlike Chicago, where segregation along class and racial lines is stark, people in New York "float." The opening scene is at a party in a Soho art gallery where two of Professor Venkatesh's friends/subjects meet. Shine is a Harlem drug dealer looking to service the Wall Street crowd. Analise is a wealthy Harvard grad running an "escort service" that caters to the very same Wall Street crowd. In Chicago, these two would never have crossed paths. In New York, where richer neighborhoods are just a short subway ride away, cross-class interactions are much more frequent, at least in the criminal world. Note that I said "interactions," though. Actual upward mobility is much harder. Most of the book is about prostitution - from high end "escorts" to low level street walkers. The high end was the more interesting. It's so lucrative a business, a Harvard graduate preferred to her other career options! Some of the madams make a fair case that they treat their employees well and that they are actually empowering the women. But on the high end of the business as well as the low, violence from the johns does happen. Then their case looks a whole lot weaker. One of the criticisms I read of this book was that Professor Venkatesh put too much of his own story into it. I disagree completely. If he hadn't explained his own reactions to all he was seeing, he would have come across as a robot. Besides, most of us are much closer to him than we are to any other person in the book. He studies criminality, and we read about it, but most of us aren't engaging in it. And while he does make these people seem like normal, feeling human beings, it's inevitable that he, the observer, and we, the readers, experience some sense of moral superiority in this story. I know I'd rather be the bored secretary that I am than Analise, no matter how much money she makes. The book is definitely more educational than it is voyeuristic, so it's definitely worth reading. I personally have come to admire Professor Venkatesh's work tremendously. Perhaps someday I'll gather the courage to write to him.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kurtbg

    After reading the first 40 pages of this book I couldn't believe this was non-fiction. It read like a poorly written work of fiction. The voice sounded nothing like an educated academic in the field of sociology would take. It seems like he got in trouble in New York which cause problems with his marriage and tried to turn the experience (which is quite lacking if indeed true) to coin a phrase to depict off-the-book economies: the title of the book Floating City. I do not recommend this book for After reading the first 40 pages of this book I couldn't believe this was non-fiction. It read like a poorly written work of fiction. The voice sounded nothing like an educated academic in the field of sociology would take. It seems like he got in trouble in New York which cause problems with his marriage and tried to turn the experience (which is quite lacking if indeed true) to coin a phrase to depict off-the-book economies: the title of the book Floating City. I do not recommend this book for anyone. I am sorry I cannot find a compliment. This is surely another Black Swan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I really loved Gang Member for a Day and learned so much about life for people in the Chicago projects. So I was disappointed with this book. The book is sloppier, less about the people trying to make a living in the underground economies of sex and drugs in NYC, and more about the author's reflections on his own life and career motivations. The memoir part began as a distraction and became a nuisance. I learned some things about the lives of sex workers and drug dealers but not to the depth I'd I really loved Gang Member for a Day and learned so much about life for people in the Chicago projects. So I was disappointed with this book. The book is sloppier, less about the people trying to make a living in the underground economies of sex and drugs in NYC, and more about the author's reflections on his own life and career motivations. The memoir part began as a distraction and became a nuisance. I learned some things about the lives of sex workers and drug dealers but not to the depth I'd hoped for.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dachokie

    Not Particularly Enlightening … This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book. Due to the critical praise of the author’s previous work (“Gang Leader for a Day”), I was drawn to read FLOATING CITY and had high expectations. Unfortunately, FLOATING CITY proved to be nothing more than a friendly-toned personal perspective of how a few select criminal profiteers struggle in New York City’s vast underworld. Rather than revealing anything new or Not Particularly Enlightening … This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book. Due to the critical praise of the author’s previous work (“Gang Leader for a Day”), I was drawn to read FLOATING CITY and had high expectations. Unfortunately, FLOATING CITY proved to be nothing more than a friendly-toned personal perspective of how a few select criminal profiteers struggle in New York City’s vast underworld. Rather than revealing anything new or insightful about New York City’s black market and the struggles of those involved, FLOATING CITY reads more like a road-trip journal than a serious, provocative look at the city’s underworld. Author and “rogue” sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh recaps his long-term stay in post-9-11 New York City, where he mingles with a mixed variety of small-time players angling for bigger profits. The cast of characters and their individual plights are stereotypical and familiar: struggling foreigner illegally supplementing his low wages to bring/keep family in the US; a Harlem drug dealer and prostitutes trying to tap high-society for wealthy clientele; a spoiled and educated twenty-something running a black market business as a profitable alternative to the ho-hum/ordinary world of standard employment. Most of the book’s content plays out on television shows every night of the week. I found the book’s most redeeming quality to be the author’s awkward presence in certain situations. Whether it is an omnipresent nuisance, nerdy tag-a-long or a quasi-confidante/friend, Venkatesh always seems to present himself as wearing a tuxedo to attend a tractor pull … out of place. But, it appears as though his subjects accept and even trust his scholarly intentions enough to allow his presence in their illegal world. Whether observing beat-downs of ambitious young drug-dealers, discussing guilt with married johns or simply chatting with a group of prostitutes, Venkatesh proves he’s been given almost unlimited access to their sordid worlds, but never generates any real drama or excitement from it. The frequent interjection of sociological theory and the author’s professional interpretations throughout the book offer a hint of scholarly intent, but only as an afterthought. Venkatesh also alludes to experiencing marital issues himself during the course of his time in New York City, but we never really see how it fits into the narrative. FLOATING CITY had promise, but doesn’t deliver. The book’s purpose was difficult to interpret. Is FLOATING CITY designed to be an educational work or just a semi-adventurous journey that seemed worthy of putting in print? Considering how much time he put into this “study” (years), I’m wondering how much better the book would have been had the author simply dropped the sociologist angle from the start.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Boy, I was not expecting to be so put off by this book but here we are. I have no idea why this has such great blurbs about it being deeply reported or providing any kind of deeply felt insight. It's a memoir of a dude's academic and career anxiety, boringly repetitive, full of high school-level literary allusions, with "underworld" "characters" sprinkled in for cred and color. It's gross. Page 168 and he's still saying "what I needed [to make my name in my new tenure-track job] was a new project Boy, I was not expecting to be so put off by this book but here we are. I have no idea why this has such great blurbs about it being deeply reported or providing any kind of deeply felt insight. It's a memoir of a dude's academic and career anxiety, boringly repetitive, full of high school-level literary allusions, with "underworld" "characters" sprinkled in for cred and color. It's gross. Page 168 and he's still saying "what I needed [to make my name in my new tenure-track job] was a new project..." This is a book about him trying to find that project; this book is not that project; this book is barely even about that project. Even half of the dialogue with pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, and sex shop workers is about him (and none of it is plausible to me; all of these characters speak in the same voice and tone as Venkatesh-as-narrator). Sheesh.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    Weirdly self-centered.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Jeanette

    Unexpectedly I liked this book...alot. Enough to read the author's Gang Leader for a Day. Floating City reveals a wholly unexpected view of New York City. The underground economy of illegal goods and services is the meat of the book. The author throws some truisms out the window such as "education is the key to success" or "your neighborhood defines who you are". Here crack dealers attend art gallery showings and "trustafarians" (my new fav word from the book) become moonlighting madams. The aut Unexpectedly I liked this book...alot. Enough to read the author's Gang Leader for a Day. Floating City reveals a wholly unexpected view of New York City. The underground economy of illegal goods and services is the meat of the book. The author throws some truisms out the window such as "education is the key to success" or "your neighborhood defines who you are". Here crack dealers attend art gallery showings and "trustafarians" (my new fav word from the book) become moonlighting madams. The author refers back to his study of Chicago, albeit a small study. I find his generalizations to be true which added some credibility to his study and view of the fascinating underground in NYC. My fav quote "This is New York. We're like hummingbirds, man. We go flower to flower...Here you need to float."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I had to read this for a sociology course that I was taking. I need to write a paper on the info in this book. Needless to say, I'm pretty confused. There is very little science in this book and very little conclusions drawn or evidence discovered. The content was fascinating for the most part and the book reads like fiction- but that may be because it sounds like fiction. That is, there is no real scientific basis. Furthermore, I'm not sure what this book is supposed to be about. Going into it, I had to read this for a sociology course that I was taking. I need to write a paper on the info in this book. Needless to say, I'm pretty confused. There is very little science in this book and very little conclusions drawn or evidence discovered. The content was fascinating for the most part and the book reads like fiction- but that may be because it sounds like fiction. That is, there is no real scientific basis. Furthermore, I'm not sure what this book is supposed to be about. Going into it, I was under the impression that this was about a sociologist doing participatory observation to learn about the underground economy in New York and parts were definitely about this. This is all I was interested in on a personal level and the only slightly useful work that I can add to my essay. However, I have read some reviews where others seem to believe that this is a memoir and they're not wrong. There is a lot about Venkatesh reflecting on his work, his love life, his future etc etc. I considered this to be meaningless fluff because I honestly didn't care and it didn't fit with the rest of the book at all. The book would be far more effective if Venkatesh didn't make himself a character- it was distracting and annoying and really didn't fit in a sociological work of non-fiction. So the book was decent- really fascinating sometimes, yet other moments were quite dull and pointless. The idea of his research and the book in general was good, the story was interesting and the writing flowed well, yet this was really poorly organized and executed and came off as a bit of a mess.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Ryan

    This book rubbed me the wrong way. I almost don't know where to start my review because most of the notes that I took while reading were page citations of points where I felt the need to jot down a snide remark in response to a terrible passage. Probably what irritated me the most, though, is what a waste of a good premise this was. What could have been a book revealing the mechanisms of the black market underworld of drugs and sex in NYC is instead a sniveling, navel-gazing, haughty, self-congr This book rubbed me the wrong way. I almost don't know where to start my review because most of the notes that I took while reading were page citations of points where I felt the need to jot down a snide remark in response to a terrible passage. Probably what irritated me the most, though, is what a waste of a good premise this was. What could have been a book revealing the mechanisms of the black market underworld of drugs and sex in NYC is instead a sniveling, navel-gazing, haughty, self-congratulatory disappointment. Stylistically, the problem with the book in one sentence is that it is written in a way that gives the impression that the author thinks his autobiography is as compelling as the biographies of his subjects. In a way, the book is narrated as a quest by a renegade professor for tenure at Columbia! The author is able to overcome the odds and fight through a dissolving marriage to still have contempt for the johns of the sex trade! The evil gatekeepers of Ivy League sociology departments, who are insistent on having “hard data” and “scientifically significant sample sizes” in their research can’t hold him down! Can't they see? He has a gift he wants to share with the world! The gift of being a self-made documentary filmmaker! Kidding aside, my greatest recurring issue was that when the author expressed concern for his subjects, it often seemed to be trumped by a concern for how his subjects could help or hurt his career. Take this not atypical passage, as he was traveling back to Chicago, where “projects [where] I had studies were starting to get torn down, and I was traveling there to follow families as they were evicted and forced to relocate…I started to experiment with filming these families in an effort to make my first documentary. I was itching to tell Shine, because I hoped he might let me make a film of his escapades, but I was afraid he’d mock me for trying to rise above my station. I wanted to wait until I had something in the can, preferably with an Oscar for best documentary.” Really? Other passages include unnecessary quotes from his subjects, like when as aspiring madam confides to the author “Will you keep on talking to me about this stuff...It feels good to talk about and nobody else understands.” I lost count of the number of self-important sentences that began with “as an ethnographer…” Perhaps the most galling, though, was how early in the book, we find out that the upper crust boyfriend of the aspiring madam is verbally and physically abusive with her and steals her money. However, by the tail end of the book, the author is buddy-buddy with the boyfriend and passing along script ideas for the boyfriend’s nascent filmmaking business (which was founded in part with the stolen money from the girlfriend). All of these little asides came at the expense of getting a better understanding of the subjects and seemed to leave the subjects’ stories partially untold. From a content perspective, the book suffers from a limited number of perspectives to advance a narrative theory. I get it: there is limited interaction in NYC between high society and the poor except for when their paths cross in the drug and/or sex industry. And it takes a special person even in those circumstances to bridge that divide. But to advance that (let’s face it, intuitive) theory through the stories of one porn store clerk that goes missing, one drug dealer trying to make it in downtown, and two or three madams is less than compelling. Especially when I didn’t find there to be adequate hard data to illuminate his theories and make the necessary links. Other links that he only half-addressed were numerous. There are many allusions, but few details, to his previous research in Chicago and how that contrasts to NYC. There are allusions, but few details, to a crumbling marriage and how that contrasts to johns wanting to save their marriage with prostitutes. There are allusions, but few details, to the challenges of being an immigrant and how that contrasts to being a prostitute. Maybe all of the interviews that the author conducted warranted a book. But this isn’t the book they warranted.

  14. 5 out of 5

    E

    This was a good read, not as many academic study references as Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets since it was based on Sudhir's notes, personal diaries, etc and he turned other parts of into formal studies. It also didn't flow as well - which, I get is because Sudhir had to float as Shine keeps telling him - but at times it was jarring to read about Analise or Margot and then go back to Shine who we had last been with over 30 pages ago. I enjoyed this, I think Sudhi This was a good read, not as many academic study references as Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets since it was based on Sudhir's notes, personal diaries, etc and he turned other parts of into formal studies. It also didn't flow as well - which, I get is because Sudhir had to float as Shine keeps telling him - but at times it was jarring to read about Analise or Margot and then go back to Shine who we had last been with over 30 pages ago. I enjoyed this, I think Sudhir is a good writer for the layperson and it was an interesting peel-back-the-curtain on the black market/sex trade in NYC. It would be interesting to compare it to the present time with the Internet and the closure of certain websites but I'm sure that study is still a year or three out from publication.

  15. 4 out of 5

    MaryJo

    I had heard about Sudhir Venkatesh’s previous book, GANG LEADER FOR A DAY, and was intrigued by his second book, with its subtitle, “ a rogue sociologist lost and found in New York’s underground economy”. Other descriptions included a back cover blurb form the NY times, “Deep reporting. . . Journalism of a very high order.” Then there is Venkatesh’s own description, “A Memoir” of his experiences researching middle and upper class segments of New York’s sex trade.” I was curious about this border I had heard about Sudhir Venkatesh’s previous book, GANG LEADER FOR A DAY, and was intrigued by his second book, with its subtitle, “ a rogue sociologist lost and found in New York’s underground economy”. Other descriptions included a back cover blurb form the NY times, “Deep reporting. . . Journalism of a very high order.” Then there is Venkatesh’s own description, “A Memoir” of his experiences researching middle and upper class segments of New York’s sex trade.” I was curious about this border crossing work. In some ways it is a not unfamiliar account of an early career ethnographer, and his dilemmas about his relationships with his subjects and his questions about what and where to disseminate his work, as well as trying to locate himself in his department and establish a publication record that will merit tenure. It is a little different in that it is not embedded in or an appendix to the ethnography itself. The question is whether it works as a stand alone book and for whom? One gets a sense of emergence as he discusses the evolution of his project, and credits various subjects as shaping his thinking in various ways. There are also nods to his U of Chicago professors, and an ongoing discussion of how he had to learn the ways New York is different from Chicago. (For insiders, this is a slightly amusing current, given the competition between Chicago and Columbia sociology departments.) His ten year investigation of prostitution and, to a smaller degree, the drug trade in New York from the perspective of the workers is written up in novelistic style—much of it is related through “conversations” between Venkatesh and his subjects, so it resembles certain forms of creative non-fiction; the Lee Gutkind variety. (Somehow all his recorded conversations sound much more articulate than my respondents' quotes.) There is a little bit of Venkatesh’s own story, his relations with both black and white New Yorkers, and the failure of his marriage and how that impacted his fieldwork experience. I found the book quite readable, but I am not sure who the audience is. The picture of how one can move in the underground economy—as well as when people cannot move—is sociologically interesting, and telling it through the careers of different kinds of sex workers would make it engaging for undergrads, and undergrad sociology classes may be the main audience for the book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brianna

    I received an advance copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Thanks! Though this book was written by a sociologist, it is not to be taken as a part of a sociological study. Venkatesh makes this clear in his author's note at the end of the book. Rather, it is a memoir of his experiences as he "floated" through New York City's underground economy. Anyone looking for hard data and facts in this book would be disappointed. Anyone looking for some interesting stories may be quite I received an advance copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Thanks! Though this book was written by a sociologist, it is not to be taken as a part of a sociological study. Venkatesh makes this clear in his author's note at the end of the book. Rather, it is a memoir of his experiences as he "floated" through New York City's underground economy. Anyone looking for hard data and facts in this book would be disappointed. Anyone looking for some interesting stories may be quite pleased with what they find. Venkatesh aims with this book to examine the connections between people of different races and economic classes in the seemingly stratified society that exists in New York City. Many people might think that a crack dealer from Harlem could not possibly have anything to do with a wealthy young socialite, but this book deals a serious blow to that assumption. While observing and interviewing his subjects, Venkatesh does not remain impartial, nor does he attempt to limit his influence. In a sociological study, this (along with his frequent comments on his feelings about his subjects and his own personal life) would prove problematic. However, this book is meant to be read as a memoir, not a study (despite Venkatesh's numerous mentions of increasing his "n's"). As a memoir, the book succeeds overall. I rated this book three stars, which for me essentially translates into this: I'm not sorry that I read it, but I will not read it again and I won't recommend it to a friend unless he/she expresses an interest in this particular subject. It is interesting and offered me a window into a world that I never would have known about, had I not read it. If the subject matter interests you at all, it's worth a read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kalem Wright

    “Floating City” explores an improvised and largely hidden community of commerce and identity that transcends 20th century boundaries of place and race. Venkatesh’s work attempts to demonstrate the importance of cultural capital in navigating globalized economic exchanges - markets which encompass legal and illegal income streams. As he illustrates, blurring of market boundaries isn’t necessarily a democratizing force as the masters of this game are those with the capital and entrepreneurial spir “Floating City” explores an improvised and largely hidden community of commerce and identity that transcends 20th century boundaries of place and race. Venkatesh’s work attempts to demonstrate the importance of cultural capital in navigating globalized economic exchanges - markets which encompass legal and illegal income streams. As he illustrates, blurring of market boundaries isn’t necessarily a democratizing force as the masters of this game are those with the capital and entrepreneurial spirit to succeed and, over and over again, working class actors fall by the wayside. I wish I could have learned more about this to share with you but this book is in fact a memoir of how Venkatesh developed his insights through single-minded pursuit while his personal life apparently crumbled in the background. Although it seemed to me this work was marketed and promoted as a sociological study, Venkatesh’s own biases and how he apparently failed to process or seek supervision around them over a ten-year period really is – at worst - the second-billed actor on this stage. Although a study on professional ethics in sociology – or any field – would be really fascinating to read, this improvisation between “Growing Pains of a Sociologist: A Novel” and the fascinating improvisational bazaars managed by skilled cultural brokers he frustratingly teases is a disappointment as a read. I’d have much rather had a collection of the articles that undoubtedly blossomed from this work rather than the failed marriage that it is.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Sparks

    I picked this memoir up solely because it has "city" in the title and I'm very interested in everything to do with cities. And this book certainly did illuminate for me a whole side of cities that I knew nothing about--the underground economy of sex workers and drug dealers. Structurally, this book has some problems. Sometimes it focuses way too much on the author's struggles in the research process to pull all of the disparate information he collects together, and his struggles with his own fee I picked this memoir up solely because it has "city" in the title and I'm very interested in everything to do with cities. And this book certainly did illuminate for me a whole side of cities that I knew nothing about--the underground economy of sex workers and drug dealers. Structurally, this book has some problems. Sometimes it focuses way too much on the author's struggles in the research process to pull all of the disparate information he collects together, and his struggles with his own feelings about the people he is observing. The book could have used stronger editing. But ultimately, I appreciated his openness about process, and the way he makes the reader part of that process. One of my takeaways from this book is the realization that people in the criminal underground are striving for goals and dreams the same as everybody else--often with great ingenuity and ambition. I won't forget the characters in this study any time soon.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    Floating City is a sociological study of the modern NYC underbelly, as experienced by Venkatesh in the years following his move to Columbia to lecture in 1999. Having already completed a study of Chicago gangs, Venkatesh originally set out to explore the lives of the drug gangs in his new city, but quickly found that due to its constant state of flux, the scene in NYC was very different. Featuring his interaction with drug dealers, sex workers from every social strata and ultimately their 'madam Floating City is a sociological study of the modern NYC underbelly, as experienced by Venkatesh in the years following his move to Columbia to lecture in 1999. Having already completed a study of Chicago gangs, Venkatesh originally set out to explore the lives of the drug gangs in his new city, but quickly found that due to its constant state of flux, the scene in NYC was very different. Featuring his interaction with drug dealers, sex workers from every social strata and ultimately their 'madams', I wasn't put off too much by Venkatesh's sometime self pity in his writing-I was interested in his experience, but ultimately was glad that I live in a very different world!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A good writer, but the book itself was a little weak. Mostly about prostitutes in NYC, mixed in with some stuff about coke dealers, and a little bit about the porn business and strip clubs, and a lot about his own issues and then some more about academics and the field of sociology. All interesting topics but a little too mixed up together. Actually, if he wasn't such a good writer this would have been crap, but I'd give it 3.5 stars if that was possible.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Oleksandr Zholud

    I’ve read about the author’s research on drug gangs in Freakonomics. This book describes his research in New York underground, chiefly drugs and sex workers. It is not a sociological study; it is more an emotional diary of a researcher with a lot of interweaving stories of both low and high income people, engaged in the underground economy. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for those empathic anecdotes and it was a great read for me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vinod Peris

    More than the book, I am fascinated by the author Sudhir Venkatesh. He seems equally at ease with scholarly professors, high society, drug dealers, prostitutes, porn video store owners, etc. On reading this book, I wanted to befriend Sudhir as I am sure that he has a treasure trove of interesting stories and experiences that he can entertain with. This book will open your eyes and debunk any pre-conceived notions that you might have of drug-dealers and prostitutes.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vasil Kolev

    This isn't like the rest of his work - the book is too focused on himself, and his life while doing the research on the sex trade in NYC. It'd be interesting to get to read that (should be showing up soon).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    Loved this book about the underworld of commerce in a big city and the juxtaposition of legal and illegal markets.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Fergus

    Excellent, fascinating, but flawed in some ways. 4.5*

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    Sudhir Vankatesh has done truly pathbreaking work on the nature of the modern criminal underworld in Chicago, and I had hoped that with his new move to Columbia University, he could do equally pathbreaking work on New York. It doesn't seem like he's lived up to his own, admittedly high, standards. The book follows a series of individuals engaged in different criminal enterprises in the city, the most important of which is prostitution. He follows Manjun, a porn-shop owner in Hell's Kitchen who re Sudhir Vankatesh has done truly pathbreaking work on the nature of the modern criminal underworld in Chicago, and I had hoped that with his new move to Columbia University, he could do equally pathbreaking work on New York. It doesn't seem like he's lived up to his own, admittedly high, standards. The book follows a series of individuals engaged in different criminal enterprises in the city, the most important of which is prostitution. He follows Manjun, a porn-shop owner in Hell's Kitchen who rents out the back of his stores to prostitutes, such as Angela, who is an older Latina trying to break into the "white market" by moving with colleagues to a communally rented flat in Brooklyn. There's Margot, who is a madam running an escort service, but who works on everything from keeping her employees' savings straight to organizing their calendar to soliciting new business. Vankatesh even learns at one point that one of his friends from the upper-crust, Analise, has secretly been running an escort service among her friends on the side. For many people it seems, prostitution is a part-time but still incredibly lucrative business. For others, such as Angela, its a series of endless beatings and robberies. The best parts of the book, however, concern Shine, who tries to move from running a crack gang in Harlem to the powdered cocaine business downtown. He uses more sophisticated and better dressed girls to insinuate his group into bars, pays off the bartenders to look out for customers or to ignore his work, and tries to keep keep it together while avoiding the cops, even as he encounters difficulties laying off people uptown, some of whom then try to move into his business too. So Vankatesh did find some real stories here, but they often feel like little more than the surface, unlike his deeper dives in Chicago. Half the book is also taken up with sociological navel-gazing, and every real revelation seems to be followed up by Vankatesh's imagining how it could effect his career in the Columbia Sociology Department. In a weird sense, the theme of the book is Vankatesh's search for a theme for the book, which he figures in the end is "floating," or the tendency of the New York underworld to float between different environments. This sort of vacuous analysis distorts what could be some worthwhile research.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dev Goswami

    I was fascinated how he brought the stories of individuals together in the underground economy. I lived near NYC my entire life and as I got older, I realized how much of the city runs off the black market, whether it be prostitution, drugs, bootleg goods, etc... From a policy standpoint, how can we bring the black market skills into mainstream job markets and help people who developed skills in the black market be functioning members of the a legal market...Questions like should we eliminate se I was fascinated how he brought the stories of individuals together in the underground economy. I lived near NYC my entire life and as I got older, I realized how much of the city runs off the black market, whether it be prostitution, drugs, bootleg goods, etc... From a policy standpoint, how can we bring the black market skills into mainstream job markets and help people who developed skills in the black market be functioning members of the a legal market...Questions like should we eliminate sex or make it legalized for the safety of the workers themselves? How can we send a drug king pin into the corporate world, help him start a legal entrepreneur enterprise and make him or her blossom? In a historical stand point, the Ottomans did this well, take pirates and make them commanders in naval ships, so how do we progress and do the same thing in the US with the underground economy? Entrepreneurship seems to be one part of the answer, but as a society, we must accept that our weak links in the underground labor markets may be actually a sustainable way for long term economic development.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Meg Berg

    After enjoying Gang Leader for a Day, by the same author, I'd been looking forward to this book, but found it to be a bit of a disappointment. It felt as though the author had plenty to work with, after dozens of interviews with sex workers and others in the underground economy, but that he was half-heartedly trying to cram his experiences into a narrative that he didn't fully embrace. As his personal life started to deteriorate, the book started to fall apart as well. He spent quite a bit of ti After enjoying Gang Leader for a Day, by the same author, I'd been looking forward to this book, but found it to be a bit of a disappointment. It felt as though the author had plenty to work with, after dozens of interviews with sex workers and others in the underground economy, but that he was half-heartedly trying to cram his experiences into a narrative that he didn't fully embrace. As his personal life started to deteriorate, the book started to fall apart as well. He spent quite a bit of time at conflict with his own ambition and grandiosity, which was considerably less interesting than the lives and struggles of the people around him. I didn't know how to rate this book. He clearly has a gift for finding people with stories to tell, and for gaining their trust, but I couldn't help feeling that another author could have done something spectacular with the material to which he gained access.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wozniak

    I was torn between giving this a 3-star rating and a 4-star rating. As a book on the underground economy, I give it 3 stars. I did learn some things about the illegal world of New York City (the focus is almost entirely on the sex workers, so while he isn't graphic about it at all, it has some truly tragic parts). But he goes right to the edge of insight, but never sums up his findings or makes complete conclusions. And he mentions the huge data set he got from all the interviews, but never shar I was torn between giving this a 3-star rating and a 4-star rating. As a book on the underground economy, I give it 3 stars. I did learn some things about the illegal world of New York City (the focus is almost entirely on the sex workers, so while he isn't graphic about it at all, it has some truly tragic parts). But he goes right to the edge of insight, but never sums up his findings or makes complete conclusions. And he mentions the huge data set he got from all the interviews, but never shares the stats from that data. But I landed on four stars because in the end I think this book is actually more of a memoir of a turbulent time in his life. And as a memoir, it is beautiful and engrossing.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Fantastic look into the lives and trade of those involved in the sex trade. This follows Sudhir's dive through the various different lives of sex workers in New York. while it is about the underground economy, it is far more about the people that comprise it. He does a great drive of presenting the people that he worked with as people, not faceless cogs in a running machine. Though the subject matter was different, it was presented very similarly to "Gang Leader for a Day" where the reader is dr Fantastic look into the lives and trade of those involved in the sex trade. This follows Sudhir's dive through the various different lives of sex workers in New York. while it is about the underground economy, it is far more about the people that comprise it. He does a great drive of presenting the people that he worked with as people, not faceless cogs in a running machine. Though the subject matter was different, it was presented very similarly to "Gang Leader for a Day" where the reader is drawn into these people's lives and are shown how and why they got to where they are.

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