Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
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Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  226 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Most Americans would be shocked to discover that slavery still exists in the United States. Yet most of us buy goods made by people who aren’t paid for their labor–people who are trapped financially, and often physically. In Nobodies, award-winning journalist John Bowe exposes the outsourcing, corporate chicanery, immigration fraud, and sleights of hand that allow forced l...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2007)
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Megan
I saw the author, John Bowe, on The Daily Show this past fall. He had suprisingly little charisma for someone who wrote a book on such an interesting subject. The book is divided into thirds, each one focusing on a case of modern slavery in the United States. The first takes place in Florida in the tomato and orange grove, the second in Tulsa at a steel mill. Both of these chapters clearly show the effects of our desire for low-cost food and products. The third chapter the author travels to Saip...more
Megan
The problem I had with this book is that Bowe undercuts his own analysis by too often expressing ambivalence about the labor abuses described in his case studies. Is it really slavery, he asks over and over. Maybe the laborers are just disgruntled? The introduction is a strong, thoughtful argument about how and why the immense, ugly, growing gap between rich & poor might lead us toward a new era of open, widespread slavery. The basic premise is that democratic principles and belief in basic...more
Lynn
Oct 12, 2007 Lynn rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
This is an extremely readable book about slavery in the United States today. Actual slavery - not just low wages. People forced to work for little or no pay and locked up in substandard dormitories or trailers and unable to leave, with their passports confiscated and threats to harm their families back home if they attempt to escape. This country really is becoming globalized in all the wrong ways in its race to the bottom for working people.

Bowe examines cases of Latino agriculture workers in S...more
Isha
This book was required reading for my job. My understanding of consumer culture and the contemporary slave trade deepened, but I'm short on solutions after reading it. Mainly, it took the joy our of Target for me while not really replacing it with other viable options. It's hard to know what lifestyle changes will actually make a difference to the corporations to the point that they would be motivated to change their practices-and this book didn't really help me with that question. That said, an...more
Care
I read this book for the Menage Discussion at CitizenReader.com. (along with the How To Tell WHen You Are Tired book.)

DEPRESSING. NO real solutions offered. Best summed by a quote in the last chapter:
"We all seek control. Control equals power. Power corrupts. Corruption makes us blind, tyrannical, and desperate to justify our behavior. I state this with less judgment than the words may suggest. I think human nature has both lovely and evil aspects. But let's agree that the evil ones aren't prett...more
Jessi
Summary: Most Americans would be shocked to discover that slavery still exists in the United States. Yet, most of us buy goods made by people who aren’t paid for their labor–people who are trapped financially, and often physically. In Nobodies, award-winning journalist John Bowe exposes the outsourcing, corporate chicanery, immigration fraud, and sleights of hand that allow forced labor to continue in the United States while the rest of us notice nothing but the everyday low price at the checkou...more
Malcolm David Logan
Dec 16, 2007 Malcolm David Logan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those concerned about globalization
John Bowe is worried about the corrupting influences of globalization and issues a credible warning about the dangers of labor exploitation throughout the world; he is an engaging writer and at points this book is a genuine page turner; but, for all that, it fails in its main objective, to expose the sinister problem of slave labor in the USA. It appears that in spite of Bowe's best efforts slave labor is still pretty much an abberation here. He cites three cases: migrant workers in Florida whos...more
Lora
I was very disappointed in this book. John Bowe reemed Thomas Friedman and The World is Flat throughout. I found it frustrating that he just couldn't stand on his own merits. The idea here is that "our hunger for status overrides our concern for others' dignity. The modern extension of this disregard is the willingness today of First World people to buy things from a global system of production that, we well know, is based on someone, somewhere, getting a raw deal." Now I agree that we ignore th...more
Heidi
Just the fact that this book exists means it needs some attention. I didn't finish just because I don't have the time for this...I don't need the details to be outraged by the fact of coerced and forced labor.

How convenient that the general public is so outraged over 'illegal aliens.' This allows for this kind of stuff to happen, hidden in plain sight.

The other day I heard an anecdote of racists in Florida, and I have to wonder if it is just coincidence that today I read in this book of several...more
Christine
The first part of this brilliant and ambitious book came out of a piece John did for the New Yorker a few years ago on the situation of migrant workers in Immokalee, FL. From there he manages to draw a picture of how exploitation, coercion and outright chattel slavery can appear "normal" to the untrained eye, and how inhumanity is validated by the traffickers and enslavers who manage to get away with it WITHIN OUR BORDERS (and in US territories like Saipan). It makes you think about how we are a...more
Ilya
There is no classic slavery in modern America, a la antebellum South, of course. Yet the worst-off, most exploited workers in America work in conditions not far from slavery. In central Florida, semiliterate illegal immigrants from Central America were made to pick oranges; their pay was mostly taken up by deductions for bad food and housing, and they had to spend the rest at an overpriced grocery store owned by the contractor's wife. The contractor told them that they are deeply in debt to him,...more
Tom
A fascinating discussion of slave like conditions, focusing on two main cases...the cases brought to light by the Coalition of Immokolee Workers in the South Florida farm labor, and a case of Indian welders in Tulsa. In the course of the discussion he has insightful comments about how power is really a more basic motivation than profit, about the way that servitude has been around very long in human history, the various legal protections people in First World countries take for granted are of re...more
Kristina
Jan 04, 2008 Kristina rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in globalization, where their food comes from, etc.
Recommended to Kristina by: NPR
Bowe goes deeper into the sound bites that are buried in the nightly news to reveal the extents of the pandemic of slave labor. As previous reviewers have mentioned, the book is divided into three sections: Florida (migrant farm workers), Tulsa (immigrant welders from India), and Saipan (factory workers and sex workers.)
The bulk of the book is by far in the section on Saipan, which delved into the many roots of the problem (who knew that Abramoff could be involved in this one!) For me, I felt t...more
Zack
This book is less a study of modern-day slavery than it is a series of dispatches on and a critique of globalization. And on that count, there was certainly enough in this book to make one disgusted with labor conditions and economic trends in the US and around the world in this new era. The book, for example, was published in 2007, around the time a new obsession with food -- specifically, where our food "comes from" -- swept over the US. It's striking then that labor conditions seem to have go...more
Wendy
To say this book was interesting is an understatement. It's amazing what people will go through to get to this country... what they're subjected to once they get here is utterly deplorable. (This is me stepping off of my soap box.)

So yes, the book does just what the title says - it's examines three distinct modern day slavery situations. But interspersed throughout those accounts are questions and commentary about one's basic sense of humanity and responsibility for others. It makes you think a...more
itpdx
The League of Women Voters has been studying immigration in the US for the past year and half. I started into the study with the idea that we could come up with a workable and fair immigration system in the US. My conclusion has been that our immigration laws and their enforcement are not going to solve the problem. We now have a system of "free trade" in which capital and goods are allowed to move freely but labor is not. This leaves an unbalanced system where workers are subject to exploitatio...more
Anthony
This quick read by John Bowe gives the reader into contemporary labor slavery through three recent American stories (migrant farmers in Florida, Indian welders in Oklahoma, and garment workers on Saipan). While his journalism focuses on his America, he makes the case that this is a broader human phenomenon, which he concludes is about control and power. His account of Saipan is his most sustained attempt to examine the effects of slavery on a society, if perhaps also a bit disorganized in its ap...more
ylin002
In this world of hierarchies,
I guess we all need something beneath us.
– Jonathan Mooney, The Short Bus

almost american
.
you can’t coax an orange to grow
the way you can a migrant worker to
climb two stories into a tree of
thorns, atop a ladder nestled in
insecurity. you can also convince
him to stay up there until he picks
a nearest full ninety-nine-
pound sack, and then you can press him
into repeating himself sixty, seventy,
or eighty times – depending
on the fairness of
sky – and by nightfall
you c...more
Victoria
This was the most boring human trafficking book I've read (and I've read about 20). Although the background information was nice regarding the history of areas and people for each account (which there were three of) I don't think it focused enough on the hard labor issues as it could have. He was a bit of a rambler to me without being interesting. It is the first book on the subject matter that could not hold my attention to wanting to know more. It did however do a good job of showing how ignor...more
Suzanne
This book caused me to contemplate my own thoughts on what it means to be treated justly and with compassion in our country. I'm grateful that the laws of our country were written to be applied to everyone -- regardless of education, income, legal status, language -- everyone. That is sometimes a difficult concept to grasp, but it is what sets us apart. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this stance. This book did such a great job of not only calling attention to ways in which humanity is s...more
Amanda J
Apr 06, 2009 Amanda J added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Global Women by Ehrenreich.
A disturbing but important book about a shameful practice. Bowe offers a searing report on recent immigrants enslaved as workers in out-of-the-way places in modern-day America. (I am not going to rate this book because I didn't read it cover-to-cover. I read certain sections of it that pertained to a paper I was writing about globalization. The narrative style is very readable, but while Bowe does a good job at examining 3 specific situations, this book does not provide a general overview of lab...more
Holly
The three part format of this book ended up being its downfall--after the first section I felt like the author had simply plugged in new names and exotic locales, but the story was the same, but not in a this-is-connected-and-profound kind of way. In a boring way.

At the same time, it was a great reminder that the food we eat, the clothes we buy, the cars we drive, have all come from places we can rarely identify, so if nothing more, the book helped renewed a sense of responsibility in me.
Andrew
I read this right after reading Fast Food Nation. So I am up on my mistreated worker literature. This is a logical companion book to Fast Food Nation and the authors refer to each other.

It is never fun to read about mistreatment of people, so there is no lightness here. On the other hand, it is valuable for us to pay attention to the overall climate of decline in the workplace and realize that we are all under pressure, with the most vulnerable feeling it the most.

Linda
After reading in excruciating detail the section on Florida, I started in on the next section - more of the same different location. I have to admit that I did not have the patience to finish the book. I skimmed the remainder. It is an interesting topic and it is surprising that we don't hear more about these covert practices. A synopsis of this book would be fascinating stuff, but I have too many books to read and too little time to waste it on this book.
Judy Cheang
One of the all time most important books you will ever read about immigration in the U.S. You are exposed to the harsh, abusive, degrading world of cheap, human labor. Human beings are used as stepping stones in the American economy, they pick our food, they sew our clothes, they even develop technology to make our lives easier and all while being held prisoner by coyotes, labor contractors, and factory supervisors.
Stephanie
Sep 26, 2008 Stephanie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephanie by: Jon Stewart show: author was guest
I am very much into learning about the food industry as I learn how to feed Amelia with quality food. This book reminds me of "Nickel and Dimed" with the horrid accounts of the way workers are treated in minimum wage sector. BUT this book is scary b/c of the abuses in this country. Factual and intense!
Delight
I was a little disappointed in this book. The first half was best and I did learn some new things, but I feel like this could have been much better. Still, I was shocked at how rampant and systemic Americal slavery is and how many immigrants get caught in this seemingly hopeless trap.
Diana
This book is superb. Bowe's way of disseminating his investigative find is both incredibly intelligible and surprisingly humorous. If you're unaware of the circumstances of our country's current slave labor condition, read this book and you'll never look at your tomatoes the same.
My Bookshelf
Not exactly sure where I first came across this, but it might have been at the Half Price Books on Shattuck Ave in Berekley. I eventually bought a copy from The Strand after moving back to NYC from California in 2009. The first section on Florida farmworkers is outstanding.
Colleen
Nov 13, 2007 Colleen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who buy stuff
This was a real eye-opener--I wasn't aware that slavery was still a problem in America. Unfortunately it seems that if you want to stop buying from companies that might be using anything ranging from bad labor practices to slavery, you'll have to stop buying things period.
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John Bowe has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The American Prospect, National Public Radios This American Life, McSweeneys, and others. He is the co-editor of Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs, one of Harvard Business Reviews best books of 2000, and co-screenwriter of the film Basquiat. In 2004, he received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, the Sydney...more
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