Sudhir Venkatesh, of Freakonomics fame, gives a riveting account of life that most of us don't experience in Gang Leader for a Day. I felt I was there with him as he began his ethnographic research in Chicago's Robert Taylor projects as a young naive sociology graduate student in the late 1980s. He befriends the local gang leader JT whose authority helps opens up life in the projects and the drug-selling street gangs to unprecedented academic study. He maintains the momentum as he chronicles how some of the poorest Americans survive amidst poverty, corruption and violence during the peak of the crack cocaine epidemic. Rather than dry scholarly prose, Venkatesh delivers this "promised biography" of JT and the Robert Taylor tenants in a rich, humanizing voice. I would recommend this book to anyone concerned with race, poverty, urban development, and public policy in the United States.
I first heard about this book on NPR and have wanted to read it since that time. A graduate student decides to take his research to an unprecedented, potentially dangerous level when he learns the ropes around the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago, befriending a gang leader in the process. This is about the economics of poverty as much as it is about unexpected friendship. Really enjoyed it. Sudhir, you have balls of steel!!
Kirk K. reviewed Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets on
Helpful Score: 1
Fascinating. This book provides a view on gangs, living in poverty, and housing developments that cannot be described through statistics -- it can only be experienced. Sudhir gives us a glimpse of what it is really like.
Engaging, and infuriating, peek into a world I know absolutely nothing about. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets has changed my perspective on a lot of things I take for granted in my life. Such as not having to worry about getting shot or beat up. Or such as my belief that America is relatively free from corruption and bribery. Or even that an ambulance will actually show up if I call 911. And by the end of the book, life hasn't actually gotten any better for any of the indigent people documented in this book, and this fact just makes you frustrated. This book was also fairly emotionally engaging in a different way: you get caught up in Sudhir's world and his worries as he follows the gang around. Maybe I just identified with him because I'm a grad student too. But his naivete is also pretty frustrating, though I'd probably have done the same in his situation.
I don't know how much of it I can take as literally true, nor how much is being left out, but even the relatively tame things that are included is more than I want to know. Well, in a freeway car crash sort of way--you don't want to see, but you can't help looking. In any case, though, certainly a fascinating read, and worth reading.
Holly V. (hollyv117) reviewed Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets on
Helpful Score: 1
This is a really good overview of gang life in Chicago's projects and of the political and social corruption that exist all over Chicago to this day.
I recommend this book to everyone - especially people who grew up privileged and sheltered, and people who say ignorant things like "you should have to get tested for drugs to qualify for welfare!", it's a huge eye-opener.