The Con Men

Hustling in New York City

Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

Columbia University Press

The Con Men

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Pub Date: August 2017

ISBN: 9780231170833

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $22.00£19.00

Pub Date: November 2015

ISBN: 9780231170826

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $27.95£24.00

Pub Date: November 2015

ISBN: 9780231540490

288 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $26.99£23.00

The Con Men

Hustling in New York City

Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

Columbia University Press

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.

Part sociology, part psychology, and always interesting history, The Con Men is a valuable tool in understanding how this small community, living in a gray market, manages to survive in a society that for the most part rejects and disdains them.

Patrick O'Reilly, author of Undue Influence: Cons, Scams, and Mind Control

The Con Men is a revealing portrait of a critical but little known element of city life: the urban hustler. Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton go deep and emerge with the goods, powerfully illuminating this subterranean world and the social lives of its inhabitants. At once timely, incisive, and poignant, this is a fascinating work of lasting importance.

Elijah Anderson, author of Code of the Street and The Cosmopolitan Canopy

Bold and illuminating.... A thoroughly researched academic study accessible to general readers.

Kirkus Reviews

This terrific ethnography explains that cons and hustles are no longer the preserve of roguish proletarians in loud suits and painted ties. Everybody wants a bargain, and creative capitalism makes mugs of us all.

Dick Hobbs, Times Higher Education

[Williams & Milton] bring the reader with them into places from Brooklyn to the Bronx that are supposed to be invisible to those not in the know.... An engaging read.

Malcolm Harris, The New Republic

A fascinating look at the New York underworld. Integrating history, social psychology and sociology, the authors provide an educated lens to examine some of the oldest cons in Manhattan, perpetuated by the hands of career schemers, counterfeiters, drug dealers and even the men and women in blue. It is an eye-opening initiation to the uninformed or the curious.

Jeffrey S. Podoshen, Consumption Markets & Culture
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Alibi: Portrait of a Con Man
2. City Cons and Hustles
3. The Con Crew
4. The Con Game as Street Theater
5. Petty Street Hustles
6. Canal Street as Venus Flytrap
7. The Numbers Game
8. New York Tenant Hustles
9. A Drug Hustle: The Crack Game
10. NYPD and the Finest Cons
11. Wall Street Cons
Epilogue
Notes
Glossary
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Terry Williams is a 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 The Cocaine Kids: The Inside Story of a Teenage Drug Ring; The Uptown Kids: Hope and Struggle in the Projects; and Crackhouse: Notes from the End of the Line, 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 in social sciences at Queensborough Community College, CUNY, and author of Overcoming the Magnetism of Street Life: Crime-Engaged Youth and the Programs That Transform Them. His areas of research include prison reform and alternative-to-incarceration programs and the intersectionality of class and racial identity.