Alissa'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
Nov 28, 2008

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bookshelves: nonfiction, staff-suggestion, 2008
Read in February, 2008

I first heard of Sudhir Venkatesh while reading Freakonomics, where the chapter “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” explores the financial realities of a gang and was based on Sudhir’s time spent observing a Chicago gang.

So I was eagerly awaiting this book (which is subtitled: a rogue sociologist takes to the streets, rogue apparently being in vogue now since Levitt’s book was about a rogue economist.) and it lived up to my expectations.

The author documents his 6 years (? I think, as the time-line isn’t super clear) spent “observing” in a Chicago projects and the access the gang leader, J.T. gave him. The book is readable, and does raise issues, but not in a preachy way. Sudhir’s struggle about the legality of what he is doing is interesting and realistic. It’s also a rare look at what it’s like to live in the “projects.” (something I know nothing about). The ending comes quickly and a bit anticlimactically, as in 1996 the Robert Taylor Homes are set for demolition, and Sudhir’s graduate studies have come to an end and he’s off to Harvard.


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