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Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,094 ratings  ·  154 reviews
"[A] fascinating X-ray of the city...Venkatesh's engrossing narrative dissects the intricacies of illegal commerce." --Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)

New York is a city of highs and lows, where wealthy elites share the streets with desperate immigrants and destitute locals. Bridging this economic divide is New York’s underground economy, the invisible network of illici
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 12th 2013 by Penguin Press
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Jennifer Griffith As a key player in a globalizing economy, New York is the floating city. Class and boundaries are no longer physical (i.e. neighborhoods - or even cou…moreAs a key player in a globalizing economy, New York is the floating city. Class and boundaries are no longer physical (i.e. neighborhoods - or even countries) but have become permeable and fluid. The underground economy that Venkatesh studies is a porous space in which mobility is paramount, hence the term floating.

Also, a nice play on words considering that Manhattan is surrounded by water.

:)(less)

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Patrick Seymour
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book could have easily been called "how Sudhir Venkatesh went to learn about New York's underground economy and wound up learning much more about himself." I found this to be a frustrating read because the author is at the center of what could have been an interesting look at the sex and drug trade in New York. He tells the readers that he is doing a study, how many interviews he has done, and even goes in depth on a handful of his subjects, but his conclusions are flimsy and seem to be bas ...more
Darcia Helle
I found Floating City a fascinating read. This is one of those rare nonfiction books that educates, enlightens, and entertains. Venkatesh's writing is never dry or dull. He invites us along on his journey, and writes as if he's confiding in a friend.

Through Venkatesh, we meet a wide variety of people, most of whom are involved in some aspect of the sex trade. We get to know spoiled rich kids in search of adventure, as well as the desperate and poor who are struggling to survive. Their stories a
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Andrew
Jul 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a pretty interesting journey into the underbelly of New York. At least from a voyeuristic point of view. Sudhir Venkatesh brings his readers from the high-class escort services of the city all the way down to the street level prostitution and drug rackets.

The only problem is that the second story, just like the subtitle, overpowers the book: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy. While the academic side of me appreciates his pains to tell us that it's all f
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Andrew
Jan 26, 2014 rated it liked it
What a difference a title makes, or even a subtitle. The version I read, the US edition which I received as a review copy, had the subtitle “A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy.”

This irritated me throughout the book, because I kept expecting Sudhir Venkatesh to “go rogue”, and he never did. He perhaps got a bit more emotionally involved with his subjects than sociologists are supposed to, but he was always scrupulous about not affecting the outcomes, about being
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Kressel Housman
Most GR reviewers don't seem to like Sudhir Venkatesh's second "pop" book as much as Gang Leader for a Day, and while it didn't move me quite as much either, particularly at the end, it was still a page-turner full of compelling true stories. The book picks up where Gang Leader for a Day left off. Finished with his grad school work at the University of Chicago, Professor Venkatesh is now taking a job at Columbia University in New York. The main theme of the book is that unlike Chicago, where ...more
Kristin
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Boy, I was not expecting to be so put off by this book but here we are. I have no idea why this has such great blurbs about it being deeply reported or providing any kind of deeply felt insight. It's a memoir of a dude's academic and career anxiety, boringly repetitive, full of high school-level literary allusions, with "underworld" "characters" sprinkled in for cred and color. It's gross.

Page 168 and he's still saying "what I needed [to make my name in my new tenure-track job] was a new project
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Lisa
Nov 16, 2013 rated it liked it
I really loved Gang Member for a Day and learned so much about life for people in the Chicago projects. So I was disappointed with this book. The book is sloppier, less about the people trying to make a living in the underground economies of sex and drugs in NYC, and more about the author's reflections on his own life and career motivations. The memoir part began as a distraction and became a nuisance. I learned some things about the lives of sex workers and drug dealers but not to the depth I'd ...more
Kurtbg
After reading the first 40 pages of this book I couldn't believe this was non-fiction. It read like a poorly written work of fiction. The voice sounded nothing like an educated academic in the field of sociology would take. It seems like he got in trouble in New York which cause problems with his marriage and tried to turn the experience (which is quite lacking if indeed true) to coin a phrase to depict off-the-book economies: the title of the book Floating City.

I do not recommend this book for
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Gwen
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Weirdly self-centered.
Dachokie
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sociology
Not Particularly Enlightening …

This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book.

Due to the critical praise of the author’s previous work (“Gang Leader for a Day”), I was drawn to read FLOATING CITY and had high expectations. Unfortunately, FLOATING CITY proved to be nothing more than a friendly-toned personal perspective of how a few select criminal profiteers struggle in New York City’s vast underworld.

Rather than revealing anything new or
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Marilyn Jeanette
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Unexpectedly I liked this book...alot. Enough to read the author's Gang Leader for a Day. Floating City reveals a wholly unexpected view of New York City. The underground economy of illegal goods and services is the meat of the book. The author throws some truisms out the window such as "education is the key to success" or "your neighborhood defines who you are". Here crack dealers attend art gallery showings and "trustafarians" (my new fav word from the book) become moonlighting madams. The aut ...more
Lindsay
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I had to read this for a sociology course that I was taking. I need to write a paper on the info in this book. Needless to say, I'm pretty confused. There is very little science in this book and very little conclusions drawn or evidence discovered. The content was fascinating for the most part and the book reads like fiction- but that may be because it sounds like fiction. That is, there is no real scientific basis.
Furthermore, I'm not sure what this book is supposed to be about. Going into it,
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Kyle Ryan
Oct 24, 2015 rated it did not like it

This book rubbed me the wrong way. I almost don't know where to start my review because most of the notes that I took while reading were page citations of points where I felt the need to jot down a snide remark in response to a terrible passage. Probably what irritated me the most, though, is what a waste of a good premise this was. What could have been a book revealing the mechanisms of the black market underworld of drugs and sex in NYC is instead a sniveling, navel-gazing, haughty, self-congr

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E
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a good read, not as many academic study references as Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets since it was based on Sudhir's notes, personal diaries, etc and he turned other parts of into formal studies. It also didn't flow as well - which, I get is because Sudhir had to float as Shine keeps telling him - but at times it was jarring to read about Analise or Margot and then go back to Shine who we had last been with over 30 pages ago. I enjoyed this, I think Sudhi ...more
MaryJo
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it
I had heard about Sudhir Venkatesh’s previous book, GANG LEADER FOR A DAY, and was intrigued by his second book, with its subtitle, “ a rogue sociologist lost and found in New York’s underground economy”. Other descriptions included a back cover blurb form the NY times, “Deep reporting. . . Journalism of a very high order.” Then there is Venkatesh’s own description, “A Memoir” of his experiences researching middle and upper class segments of New York’s sex trade.” I was curious about this border ...more
Jennifer Jarboe
Dr. Venkatesh’s book follows well in style from his first book Gamg Leader for a Day, but this book is much more of a memoir than it is an ethnographical study of the underground of NYC. While I really enjoyed his first book, the things I enjoyed most from the first book (deep connections with characters, some mix of scientific evidence mixed with stories, and riveting narrative of interlacing storylines) are weaker in this book. Perhaps, as the author notes, it is the nature of NYC compared to ...more
Brianna
Aug 17, 2013 rated it liked it
I received an advance copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Thanks!

Though this book was written by a sociologist, it is not to be taken as a part of a sociological study. Venkatesh makes this clear in his author's note at the end of the book. Rather, it is a memoir of his experiences as he "floated" through New York City's underground economy. Anyone looking for hard data and facts in this book would be disappointed. Anyone looking for some interesting stories may be quite
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Kalem Wright
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
“Floating City” explores an improvised and largely hidden community of commerce and identity that transcends 20th century boundaries of place and race. Venkatesh’s work attempts to demonstrate the importance of cultural capital in navigating globalized economic exchanges - markets which encompass legal and illegal income streams. As he illustrates, blurring of market boundaries isn’t necessarily a democratizing force as the masters of this game are those with the capital and entrepreneurial spir ...more
Kylie Sparks
Jan 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this memoir up solely because it has "city" in the title and I'm very interested in everything to do with cities. And this book certainly did illuminate for me a whole side of cities that I knew nothing about--the underground economy of sex workers and drug dealers. Structurally, this book has some problems. Sometimes it focuses way too much on the author's struggles in the research process to pull all of the disparate information he collects together, and his struggles with his own fee ...more
Eric Stone
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
What I liked so much about this book was that it was even more about the author, himself, than it was about the subjects of his sociological studies. He saw himself with great honesty and insight, through the mechanism of his studying of other people and their lives. It is a very unusual, personal sort of sociology rather than in any way coldly scientific. And in spite of being an academic, he actually writes very well, with humor and grace and depth expressed in ways that us mere mortals - thos ...more
Allan
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Floating City is a sociological study of the modern NYC underbelly, as experienced by Venkatesh in the years following his move to Columbia to lecture in 1999.

Having already completed a study of Chicago gangs, Venkatesh originally set out to explore the lives of the drug gangs in his new city, but quickly found that due to its constant state of flux, the scene in NYC was very different.

Featuring his interaction with drug dealers, sex workers from every social strata and ultimately their 'madam
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Steve
Apr 24, 2014 rated it liked it
A good writer, but the book itself was a little weak. Mostly about prostitutes in NYC, mixed in with some stuff about coke dealers, and a little bit about the porn business and strip clubs, and a lot about his own issues and then some more about academics and the field of sociology. All interesting topics but a little too mixed up together. Actually, if he wasn't such a good writer this would have been crap, but I'd give it 3.5 stars if that was possible.
Vinod Peris
May 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
More than the book, I am fascinated by the author Sudhir Venkatesh. He seems equally at ease with scholarly professors, high society, drug dealers, prostitutes, porn video store owners, etc. On reading this book, I wanted to befriend Sudhir as I am sure that he has a treasure trove of interesting stories and experiences that he can entertain with. This book will open your eyes and debunk any pre-conceived notions that you might have of drug-dealers and prostitutes.
Oleksandr Zholud
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read about the author’s research on drug gangs in Freakonomics. This book describes his research in New York underground, chiefly drugs and sex workers. It is not a sociological study; it is more an emotional diary of a researcher with a lot of interweaving stories of both low and high income people, engaged in the underground economy. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for those empathic anecdotes and it was a great read for me.
Vasil Kolev
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This isn't like the rest of his work - the book is too focused on himself, and his life while doing the research on the sex trade in NYC. It'd be interesting to get to read that (should be showing up soon).
Stefan Fergus
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent, fascinating, but flawed in some ways. 4.5*
Terri
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Loved this book about the underworld of commerce in a big city and the juxtaposition of legal and illegal markets.
Squirrel
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a book about Sudhir Venkatesh and how talking to all those economic underworld people changed him. It's a book about a white knight who doesn't really connect the dots about how similar he is to the people he most allied with, a cocaine kingpin and a madam. Venkatesh never really gets into why those people might be allied with him, despite having talked about why elsewhere: they were looking to have the cultural capital that comes from being friends with a Columbia University professor.
T
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Frank Stein
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Sudhir Vankatesh has done truly pathbreaking work on the nature of the modern criminal underworld in Chicago, and I had hoped that with his new move to Columbia University, he could do equally pathbreaking work on New York. It doesn't seem like he's lived up to his own, admittedly high, standards.

The book follows a series of individuals engaged in different criminal enterprises in the city, the most important of which is prostitution. He follows Manjun, a porn-shop owner in Hell's Kitchen who re
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Dev Goswami
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was fascinated how he brought the stories of individuals together in the underground economy. I lived near NYC my entire life and as I got older, I realized how much of the city runs off the black market, whether it be prostitution, drugs, bootleg goods, etc... From a policy standpoint, how can we bring the black market skills into mainstream job markets and help people who developed skills in the black market be functioning members of the a legal market...Questions like should we eliminate se ...more
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Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology, and the Committee on Global Thought, at Columbia University in the City of New York.

His most recent book is Gang Leader for a Day (Penguin Press), which received a Best Book award from The Economist, and is currently being translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Italian, Polish, French and Portuguese. His previous wo
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