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Land of Opportunity: One Family's Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack Hardcover – Deluxe Edition, April, 1995

16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Most reporting on drug dealing ignores context?"why crack distribution is for so many a rational career choice"?declares freelance journalist Adler. In this unwieldy but sometimes compelling book, he tells the story of the four Chambers brothers, who rose from poverty in rural Arkansas to a triumphant but brief reign as Detroit drug lords. The author's narrative zig-zags between Lee County, impoverished and segregated, and Motown, suffering deindustrialization and middle-class flight in the 1980s. Still, with the cooperation of his subjects, he draws arresting scenes: Billy Joe Chambers's decision to move north; Larry Chambers's criminal grad school in prison; the frenetic barter system at the brothers' crack den; the way a Detroit TV reporter built his rep on the Chambers's story. In 1988, all the brothers got long prison terms. Though Adler succeeds in establishing that the Chambers brothers, despite their crimes, were mainstream American capitalists, he does too little to draw them as textured personalities. 25,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is the story of brothers Billy Joe and Larry Chambers, "crack capitalists" or "ghetto capitalists" now in prison. They came north in the 1980s from Arkansas, where unemployment for young black males approached 50 percent, where many full-time workers qualified for food stamps, and where the per capita income in 1990 was only $6,387. Downtown Detroit was depressed too, and journalist Adler interweaves personal interviews, court records, news accounts, and background chapters reminiscent of Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land (LJ 2/15/91) to show crack distribution as a rational career choice. He enlarges on the business metaphor to show how sources of supply and quality control were insured and how reliable workers were trained, managed, and recruited from the brothers' hometown. Unlike the individualist cocaine dealer in Robert Sabbag's Snowblind (1976), the Chamberses are portrayed as well-organized mass-marketing distributors, and this book contributes to the literature on the economics of the narcotics trade.
Janice Dunham, John Jay Coll. Lib., New York
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 415 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Pr; 1st edition (April 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871135930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871135933
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

William M. Adler has written for many national and regional magazines, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and the Texas Observer. In addition to The Man Who Never Died, he has authored two other books of narrative nonfiction: Land of Opportunity (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995), an intimate look at the rise and fall of a crack cocaine empire, and Mollie's Job (Scribner, 2000), which follows the flight of a single factory job from the U.S. to Mexico over the course of fifty years. His work explores the intersection of individual lives and the larger forces of their times, and it describes the gap between American ideals and American realities. Adler lives with his wife and son in Colorado.

For more information about Adler and The Man Who Never Died, including tour dates, samples of Joe Hill's songs, and a gallery of archival images, see

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By LVM on February 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I lived through this period (late teens) in Detroit and can attest to the influence of the Detroit Drug organizations. In fact, they are probably understated in this book. It was an invigorating, exciting, yet somewhat frightening time to be alive.
But enough about that, it's an excellent read, perhaps a little on the "academic" side with the sociological profile of Arkansas.
But rest assured, Billy Joe, White Boy Rick, Larry, and some of the others were definitely celebrities. As a high school student, we knew who they all were.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By 14karat on March 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The book doesn't tell it all, but it's close. I would recommend it to all.

Marianna, at one time, carried the nickname of 'Little Detroit'.

I graduated with Otis in the Lee Senior High School class of 1986 so I lived this story firsthand.

There is no exaggeration that he received a standing ovation during the graduation ceremonies. He was considered a hero among many of my classmates (very unfortunately.)

Otis was always soft spoken (at least around me) yet I never saw anyone try to provoke him.

In Marianna you either work on a farm, work for the city or county gov't, work for the (only one) local industry or you're unemployed.

I have since departed from Marianna, but I'm not far away - I still visit family and friends there on a regular basis.

I've always thought all social services workers should be interned in small rural areas such as that of Marianna - maybe they would have a better perspective on what I call 'the REAL world'.

YOU should have a visit sometime!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By P. Murphy on September 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A thorough, well-written, engaging story of siblings from a large family facing oppressive racism and few economic options in rural Arkansas, who built a multi-million dollar drug empire in Detroit. Twelve years on, Alder's book is as relevant as ever. Illegal drugs and the collective harm they cause society are oddly absent from the national debate. The new boogeypeople now, of course, are immigrant workers. But drugs continue to ravage urban and rural communities, and middle-class voters become ever more disenchanted, politicians feed the the red herring of jobs lost to border jumpers to keep us all from focusing on the core issues. Those issues, of course, are money and access to it. Though few will discuss as much openly, especially in America, those born into the "lower" classes have nearly no real chance at comfort and success, and those in power have no interest in upsetting the status quo. For the vast majority stuck in the middle, the daily grind of work, school, and child care leaves little time for pushing for significant change. And this all, of course, suits the average politician just fine. Middle class voters aren't losing their jobs to immigrant workers -- but they're having trouble making ends meet in increasingly expensive suburbs. Likewise, the average drug dealer isn't ruining lives that wouldn't be ruined in some other manner (think about it: how many junkies started as truly productive members of society?). But it's much easier to send SWAT teams into crack houses than to address the motivating issues of bad schools and weak local economies.

Alder makes the reader confront these questions. He spares no one -- the Chambers brothers are not, by any stretch, sympathetic characters. They are, however, very practical characters.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By on November 18, 1997
Format: Paperback
I am an Arkansan and a Southerner, and this book provides great insight into Southern culture. Adler shows the reader what happens when people are denied fair treatment. He takes the reader on a journey from a small Arkansas town to a large Northern drug empire. The reader will be a much better person for having taken the trip.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 1, 1997
Format: Paperback
The story of how the Chambers Brothers built an empire out of crack cocaine in Detroit in the 1980s. I was living in downtown Detroit during the time that crack arrived, and it was frightening to see the changes it brought to the city in a short time. Crack addicts aren't like junkies; junkies buy smack, shoot up and for the next few hours they're cruising, blissed out. Crack addicts are different- after they smoke crack, they just want more. Crack keeps promising a better high it never quite delivers. And crack destroys the minds of addicts the way smack never did. My neighborhood became, in a few years, a dangerous place to be outdoors at night. Four people- one an infant- were killed within two blocks of my house in one year by addicts.

This book is the best single volume I've ever seen on the lure and the effects of the drug trade in the city, and on the history of the southern US and the economics and race relations that serve as a backdrop to the story. It's meticulously researched and detailed, and the author had the full cooperation of almost all the principles involved. Riveting reading.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 1997
Format: Paperback
This is a tale of inner-city enterprise to chill a good Republican's blood (although libertarians will cheer). Adler has used his impressive access to the Chambers family to spin a great yarn, but that's not all. "Land of Opportunity" is also a subtle but effective polemic on America's up-by-the-bootstraps myth.
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