The Con Men: Hustling in New York City (Studies in Transgression)

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This vivid account of hustling in New York City explores the sociological reasons why con artists play their game and the psychological tricks they use to win it. Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton, two prominent sociologists and ethnographers, spent years with New York con artists to uncover their secrets. The result is an unprecedented view into how con games operate, whether in back alleys and side streets or in police precincts and Wall Street boiler rooms.

Whether it's selling bootleg goods, playing the numbers, squatting rent-free, scamming tourists with bogus stories, selling knockoffs on Canal Street, or crafting Ponzi schemes, con artists use verbal persuasion, physical misdirection, and sheer charm to convince others to do what they want. Williams and Milton examine this act of performance art and find meaning in its methods to exact bounty from unsuspecting tourists and ordinary New Yorkers alike. Through their sophisticated exploration of the personal experiences and influences that create a successful hustler, they build a portrait of unusual emotional and psychological depth. Their work also offers a new take on structure and opportunity, showing how the city's unique urban and social architecture lends itself to the perfect con.

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Book Description:

This vivid account of hustling in New York City explores the sociological reasons why con artists play their game and the psychological tricks they use to win it. Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton, two prominent sociologists and ethnographers, spent years with New York con artists to uncover their secrets. The result is an unprecedented view into how con games operate, whether in back alleys and side streets or in police precincts and Wall Street boiler rooms.

About the Author:

Terry Williams is professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research. He specializes in teenage life and culture, drug abuse, crews and gangs, and violence and urban social policy. He is the author of TeenageSuicide Notes: An Ethnography of Self-Harm (Columbia, 2017); Harlem Supers: The Social Life of a Community in Transition (2015); Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line (1993); and The Cocaine Kids: The Inside Story of a Teenage Drug Ring (1989); and is the founder and director of the Harlem Writers Crew Project, a multimedia approach to urban education for center city and rural youths.

Trevor B. Milton is assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. He is the author of Overcoming the Magnetism of Street Life: Crime-Engaged Youth and the Programs That Transform Them and the director of the documentary Modern Racism (2018). His areas of research include prison reform and alternative-to-incarceration programs and the intersectionality of class and racial identity.

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