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Off the Books
     

Off the Books

by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh
 

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In this revelatory book, Sudhir Venkatesh takes us into Maquis Park, a poor black neighborhood on Chicago's Southside, to explore the desperate and remarkable ways in which a community survives. The result is a dramatic narrative of individuals at work, and a rich portrait of a community. But while excavating the efforts of men and women to generate a basic livelihood

Overview

In this revelatory book, Sudhir Venkatesh takes us into Maquis Park, a poor black neighborhood on Chicago's Southside, to explore the desperate and remarkable ways in which a community survives. The result is a dramatic narrative of individuals at work, and a rich portrait of a community. But while excavating the efforts of men and women to generate a basic livelihood for themselves and their families, Off the Books offers a devastating critique of the entrenched poverty that we so often ignore in America, and reveals how the underground economy is an inevitable response to the ghetto's appalling isolation from the rest of the country.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this revealing study of a Southside Chicago neighborhood, sociologist Venkatesh opens a window on how the poor live. Focusing on domestics, entrepreneurs, hustlers, preachers and gangs linked in an underground economy that "manages to touch all households," the book reveals how residents struggle between "their desires to live a just life and their needs to make ends meet as best they can." In this milieu, African-American mechanics, painters, hairdressers, musicians and informal security guards are linked to prostitutes, drug dealers, gun dealers and car thieves in illegal enterprises that even police and politicians are involved in, though not all are criminals in the usual sense. Storefront clergy, often dependent "on the underground for their own livelihood," serve as mediators and brokers between individuals and gang members, who have "insinuated themselves and their drug money into the deepest reaches of the community." Although the book's academic tenor is occasionally wearying, Venkatesh keeps his work vital and poignant by using the words of his subjects, who are as dependent on this intricate web as they are fearful of its dangers. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
ea. vol: Harvard Univ. Oct. 2006. SOC SCI Remember playing the board game Chutes and Ladders? Drawing on an eight-year study, Newman (sociology & public affairs, Princeton Univ.; A Different Shade of Gray: Midlife and Beyond in the Inner City) effectively uses ethnographic portraits to examine why some low-wage earners in New York's ghettos and beyond particularly African American and Latino service-sector employees have been experiencing a real-life version of the game. Some were able to capitalize on the economic prosperity of the late 1990s, often thanks to family, friends, and public subsidies; they went up the ladder, returning to school and obtaining trade certificates, high school diplomas, and even college degrees. Meanwhile, others, faced with family obligations, little or no training, and sheer prejudice, were not able to take advantage of these opportunities and moved downward. Similarly, sociologist Venkatesh (director of research, Inst. for Research in African American Studies, Columbia Univ.; American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto) looks at the impoverished residents of Southside Chicago's Maquis Park and the networks they have developed to cope with their devastating circumstances. For example, a mechanic works in an alleyway "shop," and gang-run businesses are an everyday affair. While Venkatesh has a more personal, compelling writing style, Newman's work offers appendixes rich in socioeconomic detail and will be of greater interest to policymakers. Both of these books are in the fine tradition of David K. Shipler's The Working Poor: The Invisible in America, and both deserve places in public and academic libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674044647
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
1,038,167
File size:
491 KB

What People are Saying About This

An unsentimental but powerfully human analysis of the webs of underground activity that sustain poor neighborhoods and their residents. Venkatesh gives the lie to the denigrating tropes of shiftlessness, mental dullness, government dependence, and disorganization that have been used to indict families in poverty.

Meet the Author

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh is Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at Columbia University.

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