Jackmccullough'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
Feb 07, 2009

really liked it
Read in April, 2009

What do people know about the Robert Taylor Homes? Mostly that it was considered to be one of the worst places in the country.

What do people know about the people who lived there? Almost nothing.

People in America need to know more about the lives of poor people. In this book, Sudhir Venkatesh recounts his six years of spending time with gang leaders, community leaders, and families at the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. He stumbles into his situation by encountering a group of young black men in the stairwell of a housing project, where he starts out by trying to administer a survey he composed. First question: "How does it feel to be black and poor?" (This is not the last display of the shocking naivete he brings to his project, sometimes to the detriment or even danger of himself and his subjects.) He quickly learns that he isn't going to learn anything by asking surveys like that, and his new approach, hanging out with the leader of the gang that controls the crack business in the building, pays dividends.

I rank this book up there with Praying for Sheetrock in its ability to give us an intimate look at how poor people really live in the United States.

The one shortcoming I noted was that I unintentionally got the audio version of this book, and I thought that the reader, although not bad, tended to ham it up a little too much for my taste.
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