Sudhir Venkatesh tells you a true story of him going into the ghetto where he tries to fill a survey in Chicago gangs given to him by his University. When he went into Chicago’s ghetto buildings and tried to interview some gang members about their interactions and day-to-day dealings within the crack industry he found out (surprisingly) that the people who live there don’t welcome stranger very kindly. During his first meeting he was held hostage for 24 hours without any harm but people were very unsure about his presence and didn’t know what to expect. Worth to say that he didn’t fit into the ethnical environment as he is an Indian.
Anyway, they held him for 24 hours till they could get the word that he was okay. Eventually, he went back to the same apartment buildings again and again until he established a relationship with the people who lived there and he learned a lot of things about living in the ghettos. It was really striking how the book reveals realities about life in very poor tenement buildings in which they have micro-economies and other small jobs such as cutting hair or fixing cars.
The major story is about how Sudhir Venkatesh was literally invited to play the role of the Chicago gang leader for a day when he had to make some decisions on behalf of the gang that lived in. Apparently, an easy role focused on goods, crack and money management. Eventually, it emerged that it’s more about micromanagement and hard decision about life and death of the other gang “family” members, competitors and other unrelated people.
In conclusion, the book offers an opportunity to see deep inside a Chicago gangs and the world in which the members live, as well as people outside the gang that interact with them. The book depicts the harsh gang reality full of brutality, poverty but also everyday aid and support which amalgamate relations within the whole community. The book is also very well written and I couldn’t put it down.
As I was reading, I feared it might not have a real conclusion, but it does. I was really amazed at just how complete the book really is. It gave me new perspectives to think through and I gained new insights into urban life in poor areas. It’s the kind of book which won’t easily be forgotten.
An exceptional piece of writing. Definitely worth to read.
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkates
Size: 302 pages
Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1491906.Gang_Leader_for_a_Day
Other useful links:
Sudhir Venkatesh on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudhir_Venkatesh
Crime in Chicago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Chicago
Other great biography: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson