The Barnes & Noble Review
In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser changed how we look at a hamburger with a scathing narrative that featured descriptions of hazardous butchering facilities and exploited minimum-wage workers. This latest book promises to do the same with the way we think about, if not use, marijuana, handpicked fruit, and pornography. In a series of essays, Schlosser examines the United States' underground economy, or black market, which in his estimate represents as much as 10 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. He illustrates how mandatory drug sentencing not only fails to diminish substance abuse but also results in nonviolent pot growers serving more time than killers. He depicts the hardscrabble existence of California's largely illegal immigrant strawberry pickers, some of whom sleep in caves just a few miles away from affluent homes. And he observes that some of the largest profits from the pornography go to the hotel-owning conglomerates that rake it in from in-room pay-per-view charges. As a whole, the collection comes off as a compendium of Schlosser's earlier magazine articles rushed into book form (indeed, much of the book was published originally in Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and U.S. News & World Report), but it is an eye-opening read from an author who has the magical ability to make us think. Katherine Hottinger
Schlosser attacks this big theme with admirably thorough reporting and a refreshingly clear, no-nonsense writing style. — Philippe Bourgois
At its most compelling, Reefer Madness is a great, muckraking ride. There's no hype in Schlosser's prose. Instead, he lets a cascade of facts make his points. — Emily Bazelon
Schlosser's argument walks a difficult, winding path. Porn, he says, should be made legal across the board, and pot as well. Both actions would throw light upon the darkness of the black market and thus reduce America's gross national pretense of virtue. At the same time, though, he writes, ''All those who now consider themselves devotees of the market should take a good look at what is happening in California. Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate and cheap.'' Which is true enough. As Schlosser smartly notes: ''The sort of black market labor once narrowly confined to California agriculture is now widespread in meatpacking, construction and garment manufacturing. The growth of the underground has lowered wages, eliminated benefits and reduced job security in these industries.'' — Sam Difton
Schlosser isn't attacking the pot industry here; he's going after the institutional hypocrisies that force it underground while leaving far more damaging practices, like the abuse of migrant workers, to fester openly. What ties Reefer Madness together is Schlosser's passionate belief that America is deeply neurotic, a nation divided against itself into a sunny, whitewashed mainstream and a lusty, angry, deeply denied subconscious. He just might be the shrink America needs. — Lev Grossman
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." Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Atlantic Monthly correspondent Schlosser made a muckraking splash with Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (an LJ Best Book of 2001). He continues to extend the investigative reporting tradition in this episodic expos of America's black economy. In turn, he takes on the (now largely domestic) marijuana business, California big agriculture's reliance on Mexican migrant workers, and the adult video and bookstore industry. Schlosser follows one specific story within the wider framework of his subjects, and the first one, about a hapless pothead whose incompetent ambition and pride got him a life sentence, is as compelling a read as any thriller. From there the energy flags somewhat; brevity would have better served the tale of one innovative pornographer's rise and fall. Still, even when piling it on, Schlosser has produced a provocative book-this despite a certain na vet in the author's claims about the innocence of pot and porn, both of which he favors fully legalizing. Even dedicated civil libertarians with a bacchanalian bent might argue that recreational drugs and commercial sex provide greater opportunities for exploitation and violence than Schlosser admits into evidence. On balance, however, this book is essential for all public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll., PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The journalist who gave us the bestselling Fast Food Nation (2001) now investigates selected aspects of that nation’s underground economy. Practitioners of subterranean economics, CD pirates, gun smugglers, check kiters, and tax cheats comprise--but don’t account for--a huge part of our gross domestic product, states Schlosser, admitting that neither he nor anybody else is quite sure exactly how huge it is. Three disparate essays demonstrate how the off-the-books world thrives with pot, porn, and poor farmworkers. First, the author considers marijuana’s history in America and our government’s frequently ambivalent, always cynical attitude toward it. Marijuana farming, indoor and al fresco, is a major cash crop, especially in the heartland. Judging from these interviews, lots of stand-up folk are in the business . . . or in the clink. Schlosser recommends decriminalizing recreational use while keeping it illegal to supply dope, but he doesn’t fully explore how fostering legal demand for illegal supplies would work. Another significant cash crop, handpicked strawberries, keeps Mexican pickers and California growers in a symbiotic embrace, so long as the pickers stay migrant and undocumented. Farm operators insulate themselves with sharecroppers and middlemen. The underpaid, overworked pickers are defenseless, and the author suggests little to help beyond piercing the operators’ free-market cover. He then turns to the free market of pornography, which feeds nice profits to blue-chip corporations as well as dirty old men. In its present state, the industry was the brainchild of one Ruben Sturman, the Disney of Porn, whose lifelong battle with the Feds is engagingly reported. Lots of dirtypictures and nasty books would evaporate, pornographer Larry Flint suggests, if the reformers would just withdraw. Until then the illicit economy flourishes. Schlosser’s pieces remain stubbornly disparate, though individually they make fine reading. Three kinds of muck, raked by an adroit reporter. Author tour