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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sudhir Venkatesh Narrator: Sudhir Venkates Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In offering vivid portraits of sources with so much to lose, [Floating City] is journalism of a very high order.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “A fascinating on-the-spot exploration of New York City’s vast underground economy. Drawing on extensive interviews with prostitutes, madams, drug dealers, and illegal workers, he exposes a hidden realm where class, race, and neighborhoods lose their distinctness. Floating City serves as a provocative introduction to a new economy. Editor’s recommendation.”

    Barnes&Noble.com, editorial review

  • “Crime and vice are the ties that bind an unlikely community of New Yorkers in this fascinating X-ray of the city…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…as a chronicler of a city on the make.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Venkatesh has a talent for transforming ethnographic observations into character-driven accounts…Verdict: At times Venkatesh is overly reflective on his status as a ‘rogue sociologist’ who challenges the academy rather than focusing on the questions he is probing. Nonetheless, this is an exciting and compelling work for general readers. It relies heavily on narrative techniques and is light on theory and figures. Readers interested in the daily workings of the illicit economy will be fascinated by the complexities and contradictions of the underground economy that Venkatesh details.”

    Library Journal

  • “A well-known sociologist explores how the underground economy is dissolving racial and class barriers in an increasingly globalized New York City…The author displays a piercing sense of empathy and ability to translate dry sociological principles into an understanding of the difficult lives of the urban poor. Less effective are his reveries on his own changing personal circumstances…Although the overall narrative is unwieldy and at times indulgent, Venkatesh has established a singular voice in urban sociology, and his immersive research and insights remain penetrating and unique. Will appeal to readers fascinated by the intersections of class, prosperity and crime.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “The author’s narration of his own work is especially instructive and illustrative because of his familiarity with his subjects.”


  • A Barnes & Noble Best Book for September 2013
  • An Amazon Top 100 Book of 2013
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