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Gang Leader for a Day
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About the Author

Sudhir Venkatesh spent a decade living with the Black Kings gang in Chicago's south side. His research later became famous in Freakonomics (Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?) He is now Professor of Sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University.

Reviews

In the late 1980s and 1990s, "rogue sociologist" Venkatesh infiltrated the world of tenant and gang life in Chicago's Robert Taylor Home projects. He found a complex system of compromises and subsistence that makes life (barely) manageable. Venkatesh excellently illustrates the resourcefulness of impoverished communities in contrast to a society that has virtually abandoned them. He also reveals the symbiotic relationship between the community and the gangs that helps sustain each. Reg Rogers reads with great emphasis and rhythm. His lilting, cadence and vocal characterization of tenants is enjoyable. Rogers's first-person narrative establishes a deep intimacy with the reader. Venkatesh reads the final chapter, but he lacks the subtly and nuance that Rogers projects throughout his reading. The insubstantial author interview on the last disc mostly covers material already discussed in the book. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 5, 2007). (Feb.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

'A rollicking read ! a vivid insight into gang culture' The Times 'Darkly entertaining ! an absorbing and self-effacing odyssey' The Guardian 'An absolutely incredible book ... equal parts comedy and tragedy ... I promise you will not be able to put it down' - Steven D. Levitt, co-author, Freakonomics

The grad student whose work with Chicago crack dealers was featured in Freakonomics has his own story to tell. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-As a young graduate student fresh off an extended stint following the Grateful Dead, Venkatesh began studying urban poverty. With a combination of an ethnographer's curiosity about another culture and some massive naivete, he gathered firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of Chicago's Robert Taylor projects. Early on, he met a megalomaniac gang leader known here as J.T., who became his mentor. Venkatesh observed and learned how the crack game works, and how many have their fingers in the pie and need life to remain the way it is. He observed violence, corruption, near homelessness, good cops, bad cops, and a lot of neglect and politics-as-usual. He made errors in judgment-it took a long time for his street smarts to catch up to his book smarts-but he tells the story in such a way as to allow readers to figure out his missteps as he did. Finally, as the projects began to come down, Venkatesh was able to demonstrate how something that seems positive is not actually good for everyone. The first line in his preface, "I woke up at about 7:30 a.m. in a crack den," reflects the prurient side of his studies, the first chapter title, "How does it feel to be black and poor?" reflects the theoretical side, and both work together in this well-rounded portrayal.-Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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