Elizabeth's Reviews > Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
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's review
Apr 07, 2008

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bookshelves: social-justice
Recommended for: anyone who wants to learn about the crack gangs and housing projects on the South Side of Chicago
Read in April, 2008

I first heard of Sudhir Venkatesh even before he was featured in Freakonomics, when my husband took Steve Levitt's course, "The Economics of Crime". Ever since I first heard the anecdote of the first-year sociology grad student who showed up to the housing projects on the South Side with a questionnaire asking "how do you feel about being poor and black? Very good, good, neither good nor bad, bad, or very bad", and who somehow endeared himself to the local Black Kings crack-dealing gang, I wanted to hear more stories about his experiences.

However, between the Economics of Crime, Freakonomics, the Freakonomics blog, and Sudhir Venkatesh's various appearances on the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, I apparently had already heard all the best anecdotes.

It was still worth reading, since I certainly never had the courage to cross Cottage Grove, 63rd, or 47th Street on foot to talk to the people who live there. However, I don't know how representative or up-to-date his account actually is.

I also think it's very disappointing that after Ms. Bailey asks Sudhir if he plans on talking to white folks, implying that he's not getting the whole story about poverty in the projects without looking at its context (why don't ambulances come? why don't the police come? why were the projects built in the first place? who's assessing whether they're meeting their goals?), he never does look into it.
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Crystal Marie I agree with you, especially in the last paragraph. He clearly showed a very narrow scope of life in the housing projects. I feel like I learned a lot about how corrupt life was inside the projects without learning much about the factors that got the people in that situation to begin with.

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