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Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy Hardcover – September 12, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Venkatesh, academic and ethnographer, lives within the underground economy in New York while studying it at the margins of the legal world. He states, The more I could penetrate the underground . . . if it was marginal, criminal or tinged with outsider status, count me in. He observes the essence of mobility, with people moving across physical space as well as reaching beyond their preordained lot in life. He finds extreme violence, which he describes as professional, nothing personal, and just business. And clearly, some of those he meets do not survive. At the same time, he observes kindness in the most unexpected places and people with so little reaching out to those with even less with remarkable loyalty and compassion. The people run businesses; they operate with a plan, seek profits and contain costs, hire, and fire while looking for new markets. Venkatesh brings to life the underground economy of New York, where rich and poor of varying ethnicities and backgrounds meet and function while they float. An enlightening book. --Mary Whaley

From Bookforum

Venkatesh dissects the fluid reinventions of self and community that define New York’s trade in outlawed good and services. Selling cocaine or sex is never a simple, unidirectional transaction in Venkatesh’s telling—parsimonious explanations are not for him. Instead he delivers an expansive account of the varieties of social power that impinge on the smaller worlds of vice trafficking in New York. Floating City is a model of ethnographic thick description, and Venkatesh is an accomplished researcher. It’s all the more disappointing, then, that his conclusions feel reductive, especially when it comes to the familiar bugaboos of gentrification and globalization. —Leonard Benardo
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1St Edition edition (September 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204160
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204166
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sudhir Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology & the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University in the City of New York. He served as a Senior Advisor to the Department of Justice from 2009-2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By K. N. VINE VOICE on August 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've read Professor Venkatesh's previous account of his fieldwork, written for a popular audience, *Gang Leader for a Day* (2008). *Floating City* picks up where that book left off, with Venkatesh having moved to New York, restless to continue his research in urban sociology yet not wanting to rehash his findings from Chicago (the setting for *Gang Leader*). It's a pretty cool set up, in part because Venkatesh is refreshingly candid about his professional anxieties doing the kind of work he does as a (then new) member of Columbia University's illustrious faculty in Sociology. Early on in this book you get a pretty good sense that Venkatesh's career is riding on how he can make sense of the *particularity* of New York's underground economies -- and not just saying it's the "same" as Chicago's.

It turns out that what Venkatesh finds out is indeed different from the Chicago example he had described so elegantly in his early scholarship and in a more hard-boiled fashion in *Gang Leader*. New York's illicit economies, he explains in a series of interrelated anecdotes, operate through interpersonal networks that challenge conventional social boundaries, including obdurate forms of racial, class, and (this is important) geographic or spatial division. In other words, if Chicago's drug trade was largely neighborhood-based (as Venkatesh helpfully reminds us of in *Floating City*), then New York's drug and sex trades (the latter being a new research area for him) are dispersed across the city, involving actors drawn from different cultural backgrounds and social classes. According to Venkatesh, New York's underground economies reflect the city's status as a key node in the flow of global capital.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J. Xavier on September 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I bought Floating City because I was a fan of Sudhir and the work he has done in Chicago and at Columbia. Maybe it was my fault for expecting a book that told a story and made a point. Maybe the point was made but it flew past me.

Basically he does not say anything in the book. Its a day to day telling of his encounters with different New York "underbelly" residents. I never got the sense that he had a particular idea or theory he wanted to get across. He would constantly mention something and then pull back from it.

I lived in New York for eight years so some of this was familiar to me. In general though, the book does not deliver anything new. There are no new ideas. The stories are the same "prostitute gets beat up stories."

I was disappointed with it. Its almost as if Sudhir felt that he should write a book after all that time but really had nothing to say.

I would give it 2.5 stars for being a casual read.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By DACHokie VINE VOICE on September 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By jazmaan VINE VOICE on September 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book was somewhere between a memoir and a popular social science book, but it didn't quite work as either. It didn't work as a memoir because I never learned enough about the author to be invested in his story. He allluded to his family, his divorce, and his career as an academic, but he only gave superficial details about his life. It didn't work as a popular social science book because I didn't really learn much from reading this book. According to the book description, I was supposed to learn about how the illicit markets in New York city are connected to the legitimate markets. However, all I really took away from this book intellectually was that there are drug dealers and prostitutes that are trying to make more money by getting higher class clientele. Which isn't the kind of fun fact that books like "Freakonomics" or a Malcolm Gladwell book offer. I gave this book 3 stars because it was just interesting enough to keep me reading, but overall, the book lacked depth.
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