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Working in the Shadows

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  555 Ratings  ·  127 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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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
Jul 06, 2012 Rana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 01, 2010 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  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
May 21, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
David Rush
Jul 26, 2016 David Rush rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lessons from this book…

Lesson 1: When you look at produce in the grocery store, imagine all the workers, their hands that cut it, shipped it, and sweated to get it to you.

Lesson 2: Never, ever, EVER, work in a chicken processing plant! EVER!

Of the three sections it comes out that while cutting lettuce is the most physically demanding, it is also the most psychologically rewarding. And the most interesting, where he discovers there is a complexity to the task and the lettuce itself.

The descripti
Sep 03, 2011 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 17, 2010 Alison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 26, 2011 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: workers-rights
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
May 31, 2010 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Grace P.
Feb 15, 2010 Grace P. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 01, 2013 Hunter Wildey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 16, 2010 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was great! It was a recommended book at work (go figure, I work for the Dept. of Labor after all) and so I figured I'd give it a go - it was really well-written and very eye-opening. Highly recommended!
Nov 12, 2010 Jamie rated it really liked it
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...
Aug 08, 2010 Gregory rated it really liked it

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
Feb 27, 2010 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Investigative reporter (some would call him a stunt journalist) Gabriel Thompson decided to investigate immigration reform by diving right in the middle of things. He wanted to find out about the lives of hard-working immigrants, both legal and illegal. So he decided to spend a few months doing jobs typically done by immigrants, spending two months in each job to make sure he got a proper feel for things. He chose three jobs: cutting lettuce in Arizona, working in a chicken plant in Alabama, and ...more
Apr 04, 2010 Marshall rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

Another "I stumbled across it in the stacks" book pick that turned out to be a great informational read without being at all dry.

Thompson takes a year to spend time doing manual labor and reporting on it. He works in lettuce fields cutting lettuce, in a poultry plant and a couple delivery jobs in NYC.

Great perspective read. Perfectly timed - I was just in the place to get a lot out of it.

I liked this quote from the afterward:
"there is also a burgeoning food movement sweeping the country concern
Dec 27, 2010 Ilya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
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
Oct 14, 2015 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"People lose their jobs at the plant because they quit, not because an immigrant takes their position."

Echoing Murrow's Harvest of Shame, Thompson does a quality journalist's job (A vegetarian working in a chicken plant?! Talk about dedication!) of showing that not much has changed for some of the hardest workers in this country in the five decades since the iconic documentary aired.

Every member of Congress ought to do what Thompson has done here. So many cavalierly dismiss (or worse) the immigr
Jun 10, 2010 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 25, 2014 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2010 Katherine rated it liked it
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
May 20, 2012 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 04, 2011 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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I have spent most of the past decade working as an independent journalist, writing feature articles about immigration, labor, and organizing for a variety of publications that include the New York Times, Harper’s, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York, Mother Jones, and The Nation. Most of my magazine writing can be found at

I'm the author of four books, each with
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