Thursday, March 22, 2007

reefer madness: sex, drugs, and cheap labor in the american black market, by eric schlosser

Three decent essays posing as a coherent book.

There's a broad unifying theme—the premise of examining "what happens in the black market." But the approach that Schlosser takes towards this content—what we could consider his methodology—varies widely from piece to piece, rendering the examination oddly diffuse, short on unifying vision.

Compounding the problem is the fact that each piece comprising the book seems drawn from a different genre: the "drugs" chapter is essentially a persuasive piece, a call for marijuana-law reform, and the goal of examining "what happens" in the drug market is mostly subordinated to the making of that argument. (This isn't to say that growers, dealers and buyers don't make their appearances—but Schlosser's more interested in focusing on the few penalized growers that will help him to make his case rather than trying to draw a larger, richer picture of the market as a whole.) By contrast, the "Sex" chapter is built around the model of the biographical profile, looking at the figure of pornography magnate Reuben Sturman (1924-1997). Sturman was a colorful guy, and Schlosser makes his tale engaging reading, but I'm not convinced that Sturman embodies the vicissitudes of the porn industry so perfectly that one can pass off Sturman's life story as an exploration of the market.

None of this is intended to knock the pieces themselves, which are clear, well-paced, and nicely detailed, essentially bedrock models of good journalism. But as a book it doesn't live up to the promise of its organizing principle.

This review will eventually be cross-posted to Raccoon Books.

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