As much as 10% of the American economy, and perhaps more, is comprised of illegal "underground" enterprises, according to author and Atlantic Monthly correspondent Eric Schlosser. And while this segment is never discussed in the newspaper business pages, Schlosser tackles it with the same in-depth analysis and compulsive readability that made his Fast Food Nation a best seller. Reefer Madness spotlights marijuana, migrant labor, and pornography, three of the most thriving black market industries, and analyzes the often-tenuous place each holds in society as a whole. While each of the three could be the subject of its own book, Schlosser keeps his scope narrow by concentrating on the lives of the participants in the underground economy, especially Mark Young, an Indiana man given a life sentence for participating in a marijuana sale, and Ohio porn magnate Reuben Sturman. At just 21 pages, the treatment of migrant laborers in the California strawberry fields is dealt with more briefly but is just as compelling thanks to the first-person narrative of Schlossers investigation. In telling these stories, which are both personal and universal, Schlosser deftly explores the manner in which his subjects are treated (and punished) compared to others in more above-ground ventures. Along the way, he asks hard questions as to what that treatment says about America. Schlosser writing is passionately opinionated, but this is no mere opinion piece: his perspective is amply supported by extensive research and clearly reasoned interpretation of data. His direct and forceful writing style makes the impact greater still. After reading Reefer Madness, readers are likely to be shocked, appalled, and flat-out bewildered by whats happening in the cracks and crevices of American business. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
From the bestselling author of Fast Food Nation comes this captivating look at the underbelly of the American marketplace. In three sections, Schlosser, an Atlantic Monthly correspondent, examines the marijuana, migrant labor and pornography trades, offering compelling tales of crime and punishment as well as an illuminating glimpse at the inner workings of the underground economy. The book revolves around two figures: Mark Young of Indiana, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his relatively minor role in a marijuana deal; and Reuben Sturman, an enigmatic Ohio man who built and controlled a formidable pornography distribution empire before finally being convicted of tax evasion, after beating a string of obscenity charges. Through recounting Young's and Sturman's ordeals, and to a lesser extent, the lives of migrant strawberry pickers in California, Schlosser unravels an American society that has "become alienated and at odds with itself." Like Fast Food Nation, this is an eye-opening book, offering the same high level of reporting and research. But while Schlosser does put forth forceful and unique market-based arguments, he isn't the first to take aim at the nation's drug laws and the puritanical hypocrisy that seeks to jail pornographers while permitting indentured servitude in California's strawberry fields. Nevertheless, this is a solid-and timely-second effort from Schlosser. As world events force Americans to choose values worth fighting for, Schlosser reminds readers, "the price of freedom is often what freedom brings."
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