In Reefer Madness (Allen Lane; 310 pages), Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser widens his scope from the burger-and-fries industry to America's "underground economy" financial activity that goes unrecorded because it's illegal, unsavory or both. This submerged economy has ballooned over the past 30 years, to about $1 trillion, and Schlosser aims to find out why.
He concentrates on three areas: pot, migrant labor and pornography. He visits peep shows and prisons, subterranean pot farms and garbage-strewn encampments of illegal Mexican farmworkers. He introduces Reuben Sturman, founder of America's $10 billion porn industry. We meet good-natured Mark Young, who got a life sentence for his fringe role in one marijuana deal. Schlosser spots colossal numbers that hide in plain sight: America's domestic marijuana harvest is worth over $20 billion a year, making it the country's largest cash crop. He isn't attacking the pot industry, but going after the institutional hypocrisies that ignore far more damaging practices, like the abuse of migrant workers.
What ties the book together is Schlosser's belief that America is divided into a sunny mainstream and a deeply denied subconscious. His next book will take on the prison system. "In 1970 the prison population was just dropping," Schlosser says. "Last week they announced it was over 2 million. This is the land of the free, with the most prisoners in history!" He just might be the shrink the country needs.