Land of Opportunity: One Family's Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack

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Crack is the scourge of our cities, but for some the business of crack is an opportunity too good to refuse. The Chambers brothers were perhaps Detroit's most successful entrepreneurs of the eighties, and they made their fortunes by applying strict business principles to the drug trade. In this harrowing and brilliantly rendered book, William Adler gives us a story whose significance transcends the true-crime genre. Land of Opportunity is the first work of sustained narrative journalism to view America's drug ...
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Overview

Crack is the scourge of our cities, but for some the business of crack is an opportunity too good to refuse. The Chambers brothers were perhaps Detroit's most successful entrepreneurs of the eighties, and they made their fortunes by applying strict business principles to the drug trade. In this harrowing and brilliantly rendered book, William Adler gives us a story whose significance transcends the true-crime genre. Land of Opportunity is the first work of sustained narrative journalism to view America's drug epidemic within the complex social context of poverty and failed opportunity in which the American Dream still struggles to be born. Although the crack epidemic has received extensive coverage over the last decade, much of the reporting has generated more heat than light. That crack is a scourge is clear from the lurid, sensationalized stories of crack-related crime and violence and the voyeuristic sketches of a day in the life of an addict. But most accounts completely ignore why crack distribution is for so many a rational career choice.

In a harrowing and brilliantly rendered book, Adler gives readers a narrative whose significance transcends the true-crime genre, gracefully weaving the story of the rise and fall of the Chambers brothers' multi-million-dollar crack empire into the larger story of the rural postagricultural South and the urban postindustrial North.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Mar.)
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
Joanne Wilkinson
When Otis Chambers graduated from high school in 1986, his successful older brother returned to their poverty-stricken hometown of Marianna, Arkansas, with a fleet of Cadillacs to mark the occasion. As Otis strutted across the stage to receive his diploma, he was greeted with a standing ovation befitting the scion of a dynasty. For in a few short years, Billy Joe and Larry Chambers, born into a family of 16 and raised in a two-bedroom house, the sons of black sharecroppers, had established Detroit's most successful crack-dealing organization, grossing about $55 million a year, more than any privately owned, legal business in the city. And they did so by using the tools of many successful entrepreneurs: they set up dozens of stores; developed a network of suppliers; monitored the quality of their product; and managed hundreds of employees, even instituting bonus programs. Adler overlays the story of their short but brilliant criminal careers with background on the rural South and postindustrial North. More than a true-crime account, this penetrating analysis of the culture of poverty and need gives context to the fact that dozens of Detroit high-schoolers were begging for the chance to cut up crack rocks for the Chambers brothers. Why? They saw it as a well-paying, after-school job with plenty of perks. A frightening but fascinating account.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871135933
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.29 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.48 (d)

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