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Working in the Shadows
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Working in the Shadows

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  438 ratings  ·  119 reviews
What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside Latino immigrants, who initially thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis-not always successful...more
Published September 15th 2009 by Da Capo Press (first published 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,137)
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In this feat of 'immersion journalism' writer Gabriel Thompson puts himself through back-breaking labor to relate the lives of workers across the country. For two months at a time he works as a lettuce farmer in Arizona, a poultry processor in rural Alabama, and a delivery boy in New York City. Disparate though those three stints may seem, they have much in common: they are physically exhausting and often dangerous jobs largely performed by migrant workers for little pay. The fruits of this labo...more
This book, as the title suggests, is the story of the author spending a year working in jobs generally dominated by immigrant laborers. He harvests lettuce on the border, works in a chicken plant in Alabama, and delivers meals in New York City. I found the section in the chicken plant especially interesting because of the fact that in my job, we put many refugee clients to work in meat processing plants. These jobs are among some of the best jobs we are able to find for people in terms of pay, s...more
An interesting look at one man's journey to work like many of the immigrants who do. Thompson spends about two months at various jobs around the US: his book focuses working on a lettuce farm, a meat processing plant and a restaurant. He also mentions a couple of jobs where he got fired--notably a flower shop.

It was a very interesting read that gave me pause and made me think about a lot of various topics: where does our food come from? Who cares/picks/processes it? What do they do when things g...more
Feb 22, 2010 Rachel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who liked Nickeled and Dimed
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
I found this book to be an enlightening look at low-wage jobs most often done by immigrants. The author simply wants to shed light on jobs that most Americans don't even realize are necessary for products and services we use every day. Before reading this book I never thought about where the lettuce I eat comes from or who harvests it. I liked this book better than Nickeled and Dimed because the author doesn't try to live on the wages he's paid and then doesn't need to cheat like I felt Barbara...more
Elliot Ratzman
You’ll never complain about your job again after you read this admirable work of immersion journalism. For several months Thompson explores the (in)dignity of labor by toiling alongside undocumented Guatemalans, Mexican guest workers and the working poor of the South and West. He spends two back-breaking months working in the lettuce fields of Yuma, Arizona; two months working in a poultry-processing factory in Alabama, and delivering food in NYC. Formally a community organizer, and with command...more
I love Gabriel Thompson's work, and I have so much admiration for him as an activist journalist. In this book, he explores where the issues of labor, poverty, and undocumented immigration overlap as he works, over the course of the year in three different, primarily immigrant-reliant industries: cutting lettuce in Yuma, Arizona; working at a poultry plant in Russellville, Alabama; and doing restaurant delivery in New York City. While uninformed loudmouths proclaim, "Immigrants are stealing Ameri...more
This book succeeds at its mission--convincing the reader that low-paid jobs in the U.S are incredibly unfair to workers--and resonates even more strongly in the "Occupy" era than in 2007, when the author conducted his experiment. The first two sections, in which he works as a lettuce picker in southern Arizona and at a poultry plant in rural Alabama, are especially strong. Although the book is framed as highlighting the role of immigrants in filling jobs that other Americans don't want, the lett...more
Gabriel Thompson goes undercover to take low-paying, disrespected jobs that most Americans feel are beneath them. He works besides immigrants in the lettuce fields, a chicken processing plant, and behind the scenes of an upscale Manhattan restaurant. Similar vein to Barbara Ehrenreich's book, "Nickel and Dimed," where she attempts to survive on minimum wage jobs. Also reminds me of the the movie, "A Day Without a Mexican," which examines (in mockumentary detail) how California's economy would cr...more
Another interesting non-fiction written first-hand by an author with an intense interest and passion for his subject. I've learned that it's called "immersion journalism". Thompson goes into the unseen world of low-paid and immigrant labor with an open-mindedness and compassion that I really respected. Again, my eyes were opened to things that I rarely think about; How does my lettuce get to my table? Where has this chicken been? Do I need to tip the delivery guy? I've also always been intereste...more
A fascinating, gripping and disturbing look at four industries: lettuce cutting, poultry processing, flower distributors, and restaurant delivery. An inside look that should make most Americans ashamed of the way immigrants and citizens are treated in the workforce. The author spends (a mere) two months in three of the four industries, gets to know the workers, their life, and the working conditions they work in every day. After reading this book, I should stop eating vegetables and poultry; how...more
Gabriel Thompson did a great thing. A la Barbara Ehrenreich, he set out to see what these very hard jobs that immigrants do - almost entirely immigrants - are like. First he harvested lettuce in Arizona. He writes clearly about how hard that is. A gringo who had preceded him didn't last more than 2 weeks. Thompson toughs it out for (I'm forgetting now) whatever his goal was (either 2 or 3 months.) It sounds impossibly hard. Then he went and worked in a poultry plant in North Carolina. Also very...more
Katie Larson
After reading Working in the Shadows, I came away with a greater appreciation of a few things. I never, ever considered the lengths people went to harvest lettuce. In fact, I'd assumed it was all machine automated now, and not manned by crews of laborers performing back-breaking work.

I felt the book started off with the most interesting job and gradually declined to the more boring (of course, maybe it's just me who finds lettuce farming fascinating). But, it was interesting and, in the end, I...more
Grace P.
This was an entertaining and informative read. I like reading about social issues dealing with workers or immigrants (or both) that tells the story of real people. Thompson is a great writer. I gave this book to my dad to read next. I think the only way to force companies to treat workers humanely is to have better labor laws and to stop the tax breaks given to these companies that leach the resources from communities and the health from their workers. But even then, Thompson shows how employers...more
Ryan Mishap
A journalist with a DIY, activist background takes us along as he works alongside people doing some of the hardest, least rewarded jobs. Thompson is a genial, bright, and humble young man and provides just the right mix of personal writing, facts, research, history, and other people's stories. With self-deprecating humor, a hopeful yet realistic demeanor, and empathy, Thompson deftly illuminates conditions and economic realities that should outrage us all and motivate action.
Hunter Wildey
This book was good in many ways. It shows how our economy can really effect the lives of people. Gabriel Thompson is a hard working man and he puts himself in the shoes of immigrant workers from cutting up lettuce, dumping tubs of chicken parts, and huffing through the streets of Manhattan. While he was writing this book he shows the backbone of this nations economy and while we still pay them less when their doing most of the work.
Scott Schneider
This is a great book in the tradition of worker journalists like Barbara Garson, Barbara Ehrenreich, etc. where they work at low wage jobs and try to portray the dignity of the work and the struggles they go through. Thompson works in Yuma, AZ cutting heads of lettuce, in Russelville, AR at a chicken plant and in NYC at a flower stand and as a restaurant bike delivery guy. All were pretty difficult assignments and you have to admire Thompson for sticking with these assignments despite the physic...more
I really enjoyed this book. Learned a lot about Immigrant workers and the jobs they do. All I know is I'm very grateful I don't work in the fields...
Such an interesting look in to the world of immigrants and US citizens alike and the jobs they are pretty much forced into. Gabriel spent a year working in three different jobs: harvesting lettuce in Arizona, processing chicken in Alabama, and working in a restaurant as a delivery boy in New York City.
He exposes how back breaking the work is for the average person new to the field, but how the people who have been working these jobs make it look easy. We see the struggle faced by these people tr...more
A 30-year-old American journalist writing about immigration issues decides to try for himself the jobs Americans supposedly won't do. He spends two months in Arizona cutting lettuce alongside Mexicans (Thompson speaks fluent Spanish), works at a chicken processing plant in Alabama alongside Guatemalans and poor Americans, and delivers food from a restaurant on a bicycle in New York City. All these jobs are very hard and dangerous. A letture cutter can be poisoned by pesticides, and cut himself i...more
Working in the Shadows by Gabriel Thompson gives the reader a look into the working lives and conditions of immigrant labor in the United States. The author goes undercover for one year, working in several different industries that rely highly on illegal or undocumented workers and gives his accounts of the types of work often performed by these workers with insight on how industries have been able to exploit them.
When I picked up this book, I initially thought the concept for the story sounde...more
If you like Nickel and Dimed and The Omnivore's Dilemma, this is the book for you. The author spent a year working jobs in the largely invisible immigrant labor industry, doing work that everyone benefits from but nobody thinks about. He worked in lettuce fields in Arizona, a chicken plant in Alabama, a flower shop in New York, and a restaurant in New York. Most of the back-breaking work he did was minimum wage or lower. He tried to live the life of an immigrant, but his skin color made employer...more
With self-effacing humor, Gabriel Thompson narrates his journey into a world of work most never see or think about. Instead of telling you how hard the work is, he shows you. Just when he thinks he's catching on and starts to be proud of himself, he'll notice that he's far behind everyone else or doing it all wrong. He appreciates how skilled "unskilled" labor is. When he's tired or injured from work, he turns that into empathy for others, and an opportunity to look at the huge scale of industri...more

I really enjoyed Gabriel Thompson's new book Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs [Most:] American Won't Do. Back in 2007 I reviewed his book There's No José Here. To highlight the plight of low wage immigrant workers, he gets a job picking lettuce in Yuma, Arizona, then in a chicken factory in Russelville, Alabama, and finally a restaurant in New York City.

It is a very well written book, and he captures how incredibly hard the work is. Fo...more
Picked this up at the library this week while looking for something else entirely... Isn't the library wonderful? I love when that happens.

I'm tearing through this book at a good clip.

Update: tore through it at a good clip. Pretty easy to get through, with smooth flowing anecdotes peppered with relevant stats and citations.

It's well written and does give insight into and context for understanding the idea thousands of low wage grueling (sometimes harmful) jobs are performed regularly in the USA...more
Interesting and a quick, satisfying read, though in my case, preaching to the choir. But as the book progresses, Thompson's narrative/argument/approach weakens. The first third takes place as he works alongside an entirely Latino workforce cutting lettuce in southern California. The second third takes place at a chicken processing plant in Alabama, where he keeps trying (and failing) to get on the part of the line staffed entirely by immigrants. His overall point--the grueling, dehumanizing, dan...more
Jesse Houle
Feb 02, 2010 Jesse Houle marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jesse by: NPR's Marketplace
The brief interview with the author of this book on NPR made him and his approach seem level-headed, thorough and well-assessed. I feel like this book addresses a topic very interesting to me. I imagine anyone concerned with others, the economy, current affairs or the working class would find this book appealing. And who isn't interested in those things these days with all of these speeches and the unending rabble about jobs and unemployment in America and the economic crisis- not to mention imm...more
This was very readable. By sharing his interactions with the people he met, Thompson managed to make it interesting to read about his experiences with some not-so-interesting jobs and to show his coworkers as people rather than victims.

This was the feature that saved the first section; farm work has been written about a lot before, but even though the basics were familiar I enjoyed reading about Thompson's experience with it. The middle section of the book was the one I found most informative -...more
Good "quick read" overview of the often overlooked and unappreciated role of the people on the low end of the pay scale who pick our produce, process our meats and deliver our carry out orders, whether those people be citizens, documented workers, or undocumented aliens. The book succeeds in putting a very human face on the incredible hardships and yet incredible endurance of people who do this work day in and day out. It is probably a good primer for "Nickel and Dimed" which I plan to read. It...more
The dirty jobs people won't do have to be done by someone. Who are those people and what are their lives like? Thompson's description of the lettuce workers' job was great. Now he is in Alabama working in a chicken processing factory. Yuck! Glad I'm a vegetarian! He then moves on to New York where he briefly works in the flower and plant "arranging" business where he promptly gets fired for no obvious reason. He moves on to a delivery "boy" for a fast food restaurant. Throughout he details the o...more
Susan Funkhouser
Jul 29, 2010 Susan Funkhouser added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who cares about migrant families
This book was fabulous. It paints a vivid picture of the lives of immigrant workers. Their work ethic is amazing, as is their love for their families and their willingness to sacrifice their comfort for the benefit of their loved ones. I wish those who take a harsh stance on illegal immigration would read this book and attempt to adopt a more empathetic attitude. I believe with all my heart the answer to the illegal immigrant problem is a clear, simple path to citizenship, not walls, guns and de...more
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I spent five years as a community organizer in Brooklyn before moving into writing. Thus far I've written about low-wage childcare workers, controversial anti-poverty initiatives, hedge funds, Ultimate Fighting, police shootings, organizing campaigns, and some other stuff. My primary focus, though, is immigrants.

My reporting on immigrants can be a lot of fun. In the course of writing I've had the...more
More about Gabriel Thompson...
There's No José Here: Following the Hidden Lives of Mexican Immigrants Calling All Radicals: How Grassroots Organizers Can Save Our Democracy Downtown Italian: Recipes Inspired by Italy, Created in New York's West Village

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