Feb 26, 2020
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor
Posted by Sudhir Venkatesh

Listen to a short interview with Sudhir Venkatesh Host Chris Gondek Producer Heron Crane In this revelatory book, Sudhir Venkatesh takes us into Maquis Park, a poor black neighborhood on Chicago s Southside, to explore the desperate, dangerous, and remarkable ways in which a community survives We find there an entire world of unregulated, unreported, and untax Listen to a short interview with Sudhir Venkatesh Host Chris Gondek Producer Heron Crane In this revelatory book, Sudhir Venkatesh takes us into Maquis Park, a poor black neighborhood on Chicago s Southside, to explore the desperate, dangerous, and remarkable ways in which a community survives We find there an entire world of unregulated, unreported, and untaxed work, a system of living off the books that is daily life in the ghetto From women who clean houses and prepare lunches for the local hospital to small scale entrepreneurs like the mechanic who works in an alley from the preacher who provides mediation services to the salon owner who rents her store out for gambling parties and from street vendors hawking socks and incense to the drug dealing and extortion of the local gang, we come to see how these activities form the backbone of the ghetto economy What emerges are the innumerable ways that these men and women, immersed in their shadowy economic pursuits, are connected to and reliant upon one another The underground economy, as Venkatesh s subtle storytelling reveals, functions as an intricate web, and in the strength of its strands lie the fates of many Maquis Park residents 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 20060904

  • Title: Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor
  • Author: Sudhir Venkatesh
  • ISBN: 9780674023550
  • Page: 423
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Off the Books The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor Listen to a short interview with Sudhir Venkatesh Host Chris Gondek Producer Heron Crane In this revelatory book Sudhir Venkatesh takes us into Maquis Park a poor black neighborhood on Chicago s Sou


    I ll never look at a ghetto the same way again Much of what sociologist Venkatesh found during his deep immersion into one of Chicago s south side neighborhoods isn t surprising what did surprise me was the degree of symbiosis among the various players in the underground economy Street hustlers often homeless might hawk merchandise, but also be employed by store owners to hand out flyers, or even to sleep in the store at night as security A store owner might provide a ready bathroom to the hustl [...]


    I m not really sure why so many Goodreaders were expecting a Harvard University Press publication of a qualitative study of illicit economies to be targeted for the reading level of The da Vinci Code Let s be clear, this is the publication of a multi year survey by an academic on an academic press.And it s an incredibly important study Most scholarly output on the urban poor draws either from statistical estimates of activity or on political polemics disguised as original research This is a frus [...]


    The topic is important urban poverty and the book is informative The degree to which police are complicit in the underground economy by their simple refusal to interact with poor communities was an eye opener But the book was too long, mostly due to unnecessary wordiness and repetition of arguments it should have been about 3 4 or even 1 2 as long as it is He seems like a good academic writer but doesn t make the transition to a wider audience very well it definitely could have used better edit [...]


    Probably the best account I ve seen of life in the slums.The author tells interesting stories about how welfare mothers manage the household Getting a few dollars here, there, and anywhere to pay the bills Every adult who lives in the home is expected to contribute,either money, a car, services, something Even grandparents have explicit mandatory contributions One woman kicked her grandfather out of the home six times for up to a month because he was not putting in his share The author repeats t [...]

    Anya Weber

    I ll admit that I only read about the first half of this book It s a fascinating topic the underground, unreported, illegal commerce that goes on in the inner city And Venkatesh definitely knows his subject he spent about a decade getting to know this one Chicago ghetto community, and I completely trust his stats and judgments about how people there make ends meet.Unfortunately, Venkatesh s writing style is a bit pompous at times, and he throws in scholarly terminology when it s not really neede [...]

    Mike Morita

    Freakonomics is a huge bestseller, the successful collaboration of an economist and a journalist Levitt Dubner This book screams for such a collaboration.Off the Books The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor is authored by an economist and colleague of the better known Levitt, and explores similar real world economics that the public is now familiar with The author entered Chicago s tough area and, after gaining the trust of the locals, began to observe the interrelated economic activities the [...]


    Living in and around Chicago for almost my entire life, I was particularly interested in what Venkatesh had to say about the inner city experience here He did not disappoint Venkatesh uncovers a world that is barely visible in the evening news reports of murder, drugs and meyhem in neighborhoods like Garfield Park and Englewood I now completely understand why people living in these communities are so hesitant to implicate the murderers in their midst I understand now how clergy became entangled [...]


    Off the Books is still a book for the lay reader but it is clearly a deep dive into the economics and sociology of the urban ghetto The book explores how various actors in the ghetto economy work with each other from people just trying to get by to prostitutes, pimps, street preachers, homeless, local business owners, itinerant hustlers, and gang members selling crack on local sidewalks On the good side, it is peppered throughout with very specific examples and excerpts of interviews and convers [...]


    While Off the Books can be a little dry at times, it was still an interesting look into daily life for the urban poor on Chicago s South Side Some of it was what I was expecting pimps, hos, drugs, and gangs but a lot of it was news to me a homeless guy with a thriving auto repair practice.What was particularly interesting was that the book covered events from the late nineties up until 2004, so a lot of what was discussed is fairly recent history.Venkatesh has a tendency to hammer a point home s [...]


    One of the best books on poverty I ve ever read Venkatesh spends over a year in a small several blocks section of south Chicago learning about the complicated underground economy how drug dealers make their money, how single mothers negotiate with those drug dealers for economic assistance in exchange for allowing them to sell drugs on a certain corner, etc If you ve ever wondered how people survive on 203 mo the amount of welfare given to a single adult, for example, in Minnesota , read this


    Venkatesh has masterfully produced what is both effective and persuasive in his work Off the Books The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor It is effective in that he captures the essence of a plighted people and place, and persuasive because some kind of personal change will be experienced in the range of time before the book is read to after it is finished He shows that there is good, there is bad, and there is ugly existing in Maquis Park, just like every other neighborhood across the United [...]

    Amanda Bivens

    I began this book with great excitement The first few chapters were engrossing However by the time I made my way to the chapter on gang contribution, I felt the information was becoming circular No new insight was gained because everything had been laid out in pieces within previous chapters I did thoroughly enjoy the part about pastoral contributions to the underground economy and overall found the work to be fascinating and refreshingly unsentimental.

    Ashleigh Summerlin

    Not very well written, redundant, and overly detailed Then again, it is the authors thesis and culmination of years of research, so I shouldn t be so harsh


    I ll try not to repeat what the other reviewers have already said andjust express my opinion on the book.It is sad but all too true that the poor seldom speak forthemselves And even though they may live a few blocks away, itrequires a prolonged ethnographic study like Venkatesh s to getthe picture of their daily lives and economic relations.And the picture he paints is indeed fascinating Sterile academicwords like gang activity or narcotics that Venkatesh uses contrastwith the stark reality and [...]

    Holly Wood

    In the early nineties while researching the Robert Taylor Homes project complex located in Chicago s Southside, Sudhir Venkatesh felt compelled to confront the popular notion that the ghetto constituted something of an economic doldrums instead, he spent many years embedding himself within the complex underground economy of a nearby neighborhood, Marquis Park, familiarizing himself with its participants, its codes and its volatility In this way, he fashions himself a story teller of sorts, illus [...]

    Gene Taylor

    Off the books is an engaging account of life in and around the underground economy in an American ghetto The author, Sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh , spent a large amount of time in the Chicago Southside neighborhood of Marquis Park, establishing relationships with residents and observing their daily life This provided him with the ability to write a fly on the wall account of the web of exchange in the neighborhood that is occurring outside of the formal economy.The ghetto presents a range of opp [...]


    I have a particular rule that applies to managing my bibliophilia, which is that any book I leave in a Macy s fitting room while trying on new pants to replace the ones that I tore that day on the way to work, is not a book that I need to replace in order to say that I have finished it I will admit this is a rule set by recent precedent than by any codified regulation as such Off the Books is not a book that anyone needs to finish without utterly compelling reasons such as survival, significant [...]

    Maya Rock

    This book is about a ghetto community in Chicago and the myriad ways the people in the community make money illegally and how they are all interconnected in this web which is quite intricate and helpful in keeping people fed, but ultimately of course keeps them apart from the outside world and stuck in the ghetto There is not much in the ghetto that is not aimed at making people stay in the ghetto.I chose this because the Freakonomics people recommended it although I have yet to read Freakonomic [...]


    I highly recommend this book to those interested in a understanding the dynamics of the life among the urban poor Folks that navigate this economy are faced with situations and decisions that those of secure in our middle class lives can t begin to comprehend The book explains the critical role that the storefront preachers play in the community Moms in poor communities want the same thing as Moms everywhere good schools, a safe community, and better life for their children Unfortunately, the Am [...]


    This book takes you inside an urban neighborhood in Chicago s southside as the author explores how various people make money to get by As the reader quickly discovers, nearly everyone is involved in an underground economy, from the woman who sells soul food from the back of her kitchen and doesn t report the revenues, to the street hustlers and gang members More interesting, everyone s activities are inexplicably intertwined in a profound and intricate way and it becomes near impossible to diffe [...]

    Dean P.

    Interesting look at the underground economy in a neighborhood in Chicago The author lived for several years in Maquis Park, a poor black neighborhood on Chicago s Southside, and documents his experiences with the neighbors and community members there.On one hand, it is a good look at the players in the underground economy of the 21st century He explores the various means of licit and illicit economic behavior and answers the why on the motivations of the players.On the other hand, the author see [...]


    This serves as the smart companion to Venkatesh s other work, Gang Leader for a Day Not to say the other book wasn t smart, but it was dedicated to character studies and had a little action This book gives you depth to the economic and social background to the parts of Chicago in Gang Leader Many of the same character types show up in both works This one goes deeper into the reasons behind community interactions and examines the research about poor inner city communities Each chapter focuses [...]

    Vasil Kolev

    The book explains the internal dealings of a poor black community in Chicago, showing the webs of connections between the residents The different kinds people that inhabit and influence the society are well describer residents, clergy, gangs, homeless people, activists.There s no recipe for how to solve anything, it s just plain history and direct observations of the people and their interactions The insight the book provides is useful for initial understanding of the culture of these gettos, bu [...]

    David Gross

    Venkatesh stumbled on the underground economy of a poor neighborhood in Chicago and saw a world open in front of me whose significance I couldn t have imagined The innumerable economic exchanges that took place every hour, every day, no longer seemed random or happenstance There was a vast structure in place, a set of rules that defined who traded with whom, who could work on a street corner or park bench, and what prices could be set and what revenue could be earned There were codes in place fo [...]

    Don Monson

    Not for the faint of heart or those bored by statistics this book is a gripping peek inside a struggling community that the vast majority of us will never experience or comprehend Venkatesh allows us to come as close as print will let us Venkatesh s casual treatment of the harder aspects of life in maquis park only mirrors their own casual treatment But the picture that emerges is of a life that is far vibrant than one would anticipate However, that life sows the seeds of its own persistence si [...]


    This was a very interesting book The people in this community are connected and dependent on one another in ways I could not have imagined Before reading this, I had a poor concept of what hustling entails, and how many different ways it manifests To see the ways in which gang activity is embedded, and possibly essential, in the community was fascinating.The only fault is that the writing is pretty academic dense and repetitive reads like perhaps it was written for Venkatesh s dissertation The e [...]


    After completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, Venkatesh wrote this book in an effort to describe his experiences with the Urban poor in the South Side of Chicago While insightful, the organization of the book leaves much to be desired The messages he takes from his experiences are simple and powerful, but are often over explained leaving the last half of each chapter and especially the last half of the book repetitive and dull I would still recommend this book to people who are al [...]


    The story he s telling is important, and when he s narrating directly, powerfully written The idea of a widespread underground economy in low income neighborhoods has incredible relevance to policy debates on everything from taxes to zoning to policing, etc It even gets to the very idea of what law is what these people are doing is setting up alternative methods of enforcing contracts and keeping the peace, outside the state This is a book I will definitely think about for a long time It s very [...]


    During the course of reading this book, I kept thinking, Damn, I wish this was written by a journalist rather than a sociologist That was my quibble with the book, that it put such an academic frame on an incredibly human subject.But Off the Books was not without its merits Venkatesh lays out the truth of life in this extremely impoverished neighborhood just as he sees it, no censoring In the end, he connects all the dots and manages to make me see why the current traditional methods of communit [...]


    A tedious 382 pages Mr Venkatesh obviously immersed himself in the daily life of the urban poor, and certainly has an interesting five page journal article here, unfortunately he also has an addional382 pages of tedious, repetitive anecdotes from his time interviewing the urban poor After reading a story about someone illegally repairing a car in an alley for the 100th time probably not an exaggeration you start to feel like you are not really getting the full scope of the story The limited use [...]

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