Synopses & Reviews
New York is a city of highs and lows, where wealthy elites share the streets with desperate immigrants and destitute locals. Bridging this economic divide is New York's underground economy, the invisible network of illicit transactions between rich and poor that secretly weaves together the whole city.
Sudhir Venkatesh, acclaimed sociologist at Columbia University and author of Gang Leader for a Day, returns to the streets to connect the dots of New York's divergent economic worlds and crack the code of the city's underground economy. Based on Venkatesh's interviews with prostitutes and socialites, immigrants and academics, high end drug bosses and street-level dealers, Floating City exposes the underground as the city's true engine of social transformation and economic prosperity revealing a wholly unprecedented vision of New York.
A memoir of sociological investigation, Floating City draws from Venkatesh's decade of research within the affluent communities of Upper East Side socialites and Midtown businessmen, the drug gangs of Harlem and the sex workers of Brooklyn, the artists of Tribeca and the escort services of Hell's Kitchen. Venkatesh arrived in the city after his groundbreaking research in Chicago, where crime remained stubbornly local: gangs stuck to their housing projects and criminals stayed on their corners. But in Floating City, Venkatesh discovers that New York's underground economy unites instead of divides inhabitants: a vast network of off the books” transactions linking the high and low worlds of the city. Venkatesh shows how dealing in drugs and sex and undocumented labor bridges the conventional divides between rich and poor, unmasking a city knit together by the invisible threads of the underground economy.
Planting himself squarely within this unexplored world, Venkatesh closely follows a dozen New Yorkers locked in the underground economy. Bangledeshi shop clerks like Manjun and Santosh navigate immense networks of illegal goods and services, connecting inquisitive tourists with sex workers and drug dealers. Hispanic prostitutes like Angela and Carla feel secure enough in the new city to leave their old neighborhoods behind in pursuit of bigger money, yet abandon all the safety they had when their clients were known locals. Rich uptown women like Analise and Brittany have the changing city at their beck and call, but both turn to sex work as an easy way to make ends meet without relying on their family fortunes. Venkatesh's greatest guide is Shine, an African American drug boss based in Harlem who hopes to break into the elusive, upscale cocaine market. Without connections among wealthy whites, Shine undertakes an audacious campaign of self-reinvention, leaving behind the certainties of race and class with all the drive of the greatest entrepreneurs. As Shine explains to Venkatesh, This is New York! We're like hummingbirds, man. We go flower to flower.... Here, you need to float.”
Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy chronicles Venkatesh's decade of discovery and loss in the shifting terrain of New York, where research subjects might disappear suddenly and new allies emerge by chance, where close friends might reveal themselves to be criminals of the lowest order. Propelled by Venkatesh's numerous interviews and firsthand research, Floating City at its heart is a story of one man struggling to understand a complex global city constantly in the throes of becoming.
"Crime and vice are the ties that bind an unlikely community of New Yorkers in this fascinating X-ray of the city. Columbia University sociologist Venkatesh (Gang Leader for a Day) profiles and befriends shady strivers, from immigrant porn-shop clerks working a kaleidoscope of illicit businesses to a Harlem drug dealer who supplies well-heeled white artists and hipsters. But Venkatesh focuses on the sex trade: ghetto streetwalkers; Ivy League grads moonlighting as call girls; smug Wall Street johns who insist their dalliances strengthen their marriages; and an heiress who sets herself up as a madam. Venkatesh's engrossing narrative dissects the intricacies of illegal commerce and the subtle ways it both divides and entwines different classes and races, while painting rich, novelistic portraits of its participants and their dreams of self-reinvention. Meanwhile, he weathers his own identity crisis as he vacillates between voyeuristic journalism and scientific sociology. The latter is the book's weakest element sketchy pensées about globalization, entropy, and 'the talent to use and lose improvised social ties' and nothing that Fitzgerald or Tom Wolfe couldn't tell you about. Fortunately, Venkatesh's vivid prose, shrewd eye, and empathy make him a worthy successor to them as a chronicler of a city on the make. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Praise for Venkateshs Gang Leader for a Day
—The New York Times
“Compelling . . . dramatic. . . . Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand.”
“An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city.”
“A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from vivid tales of their lives and [Venkateshs], and how they intertwined.”
—The Economist (A Best Book of the Year)
The bestselling author of Gang Leader for a Day
reveals the secrets of New York's underground economy in this vivid memoir of sociological investigation.
This is New York! We're like hummingbirds, man,” explains Shine, a small-time Harlem crack dealer breaking into the elite cocaine market. We go flower to flower. Didn't they teach you that in Chicago?” Sudhir Venkatesh's last book arose from his groundbreaking work in Chicago, revealing the true cost of doing business for drug gangs in the city's worst housing projects. After a decade learning the critical lesson of urban poverty your neighborhood is your fate Venkatesh arrived in New York expecting the same harsh certainty. But what Shine shows Venkatesh is something wholly unexpected: a city where neighborhoods mean nothing and networks mean everything, where the distinctions between race and class simply dissolve.
In Floating City, Venkatesh explores New York's highs and lows the trust-fund socialites with their cocktail parties and elite sex work, the recent immigrants with their illicit jobs and sordid compromises and discovers a city of tremendous social transformation. Exposing the immigrant nannies working off the books for young professionals in high-priced condos, the black low-income drug dealers serving white hedge fund traders and hip artists, Venkatesh reveals a global city knit together by the invisible shifting threads of the underground economy. Searching for a grand theory to explain the intersecting world of both rich and poor, Venkatesh wonders: Isn't it possible that staring up at the skyscrapers made you blind to the true picture? Of course, Shine counsels, you're not in Chicago anymore. Here in New York, You need to float.”
Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy follows Venkatesh's journeys through the vast invisible continent” of New York's underground economy, an unseen world linking and strengthening the enormous diversity of a new global city in the throes of becoming. Floating City reveals the real winners and losers of the new economy, the thriving elites who pull the levers of power and the desperate laborers who always risk falling off the bottom. Propelled by Venkatesh's interviews with hundreds of prostitutes, madams, drug dealers, and immigrants, Floating City is the ultimate journey into the true workings of America's most diverse and influential city.
About the Author
Sudhir Venkatesh is the William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology and a member of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. His most recent book is Gang Leader for a Day, a New York Times bestseller that received a best book of the year award from The Economist. Venkateshs writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. He lives in New York City.