Alice'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 03, 2012

it was amazing

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like the author portrayed the world of the urban poor in a way that most middle class Americans never see. Every one living in Robert Taylor projects in Chicago is just trying to survive and enjoy life to the best of their abilities. The pimps, the young moms, the prostitutes, the drug lords, the gang foot soldiers, the squatters, the elderly... They do what they can to make their lives tolerable, if not a bit enjoyable. The author, Sudhir, sees that everyone living in the projects is a "hustler" in some way or another, including himself. JT, the gang leader, does whatever he can to increase drug revenue, even teaching his members to avoid violence so that customers won't be scared away. Ms. Bailey charges taxes on illegal commerce ranging from day care to prostitution that occurs in her building. Sudhir tries to get information on everyone's lives in the projects in order to impress his academic advisors. It reminds me of the tragedy of the commons. No one is going out to purposefully be evil to others, but each is trying to maximize their own happiness or success. When this occurs in an area with limited resources, like the projects, then those resources are used up and the residents must turn to illegal activities to survive.. Those of us in middle class america may act in the same way, but it may not be as necessary for us to live lawlessly in order to achieve our happiness or success. So are we better for this? Sudhir doesn't try to preach, but simply wants to give one view of the urban poor. He realizes his own shortcomings, like his over-exhilaration of being so near to the gang, but he presents it unapologetically as his experience in the projects. Honest and interesting, a great story with no easy judgments or answers.
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