Will appeal to readers fascinated by the intersections of class, prosperity and crime.

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FLOATING CITY

A ROGUE SOCIOLOGIST LOST AND FOUND IN NEW YORK'S UNDERGROUND ECONOMY

A well-known sociologist explores how the underground economy is dissolving racial and class barriers in an increasingly globalized New York City.  

Although Venkatesh (Sociology/Columbia Univ.; Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, 2008, etc.) established his career via his penetrating studies of the Chicago underclass, he declares that in New York, a “new world of permeable borders beckoned [where] the criminal underworld interacts with the mainstream world to make the world of the future.” He notes that although the book grew out of research conducted since 1997 on sex workers and the underground economy in these cities, it is not strictly academic but also contains elements of memoir. After establishing his essential thesis about New York’s new permeability among ambitious residents willing to “float,” he delves into more specific social narratives, beginning with the lives of Indian video store workers and aging Hispanic prostitutes against the backdrop of Manhattan’s Giuliani-era gentrification. Venkatesh then moves on to a nuanced portrait of a Harlem cocaine dealer trying to decode the lucrative downtown (white) market (a section reminiscent of his previous book) and to the noirish lives of several women attempting to be successful as managers of upscale prostitutes. These women discussed the “large numbers of women [arriving] in New York with a surprising new openness to the idea of using sex work to supplement poorly paying straight jobs.” 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, which include divorce and the struggles of academic careerism, and his attempts to observe the feckless social and career rituals of Manhattan’s youthful upper class. 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59420-416-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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