Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Author
Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Author . Harvard Univ. $27.95 (426p) ISBN 978-0-674-02355-0
Ebook - 449 pages - 978-0-674-04464-7
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-674-03071-8
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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.)

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