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Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

For A Day Has Take Away?

Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and having lived in the projects for a time, I found myself deeply conflicted by the author's portrayal of others and himself. In the end he is only somewhat honest with himself about being the biggest hustler of all in th...
Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and having lived in the projects for a time, I found myself deeply conflicted by the author's portrayal of others and himself. In the end he is only somewhat honest with himself about being the biggest hustler of all in the book. How exactly do you eat people's food and sit on their couches and follow them around for six years and in the end say you weren't even friends? Is this simply artificial distance inserted to make himself seem more scholarly, or does he really feel this way about the people who greatly contributed to his career? He tries to distinguish himself from the very people he interacted with and at times participated in morally questionable behavior with by describing himself as dressing appropriately for an Ivy League professor while returning to visit the ghetto.' This description of himself at the end of the book brought home sharply to me the reality that most people will take a look at this world, like the author, and then put it down and walk away from the very real needs that real Americans have and it left me frustrated and angry. ( Like this is there rightful place in a cast system?) That is not America, fortunately. For every person who makes it out, there are hundreds left behind and most people are unwilling or unable to do anything except close a book and forget. I highly question that anything will be done as a result of this work to significantly improve impoverished Americans' situations, a view that the author confirms? - So much for Sociology, huh? For all of the conflicting statements about various individuals moral choices in the book, the real heroes are the people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. J.T., the drug dealer who gave the author the unprecendented access, reflects the true complexity of his environment and the ways in which people rationalize what they have to do in order to make a life for their families. In many ways all of the people who spoke with and participated in the author's journey through American poverty reflect the same principles and values that the rest of America have. We all make choices and do what we have to do to get by, no matter how cultured we pretend to be. So while I am frustrated by the author's need to distinguish himself from the people who shared so much with him, I hope that this book makes people think about the people around them and the very real suffering that occurs in our own country. I know from having lived in a place not to far removed from what the author describes, I cannot turn away and forget. While other people see a middle class girl now, in many ways I will never be separated from that life and I know that even this book does not begin to address the long-term difficulties involved in irradicating poverty in this country. This book then is incomplete and is in many respects like an incident report. It gives you the facts but very little solutions or substantive take away. 'Gangleader for a day,' however does reveal a foreshadow for America of what will become even more common place. This is subcoultures and underground economies which will become more common as our economy melts down and the powers that be dismantle the middle class into a future socialist state. Watch for the 'Amero' and America's continued decline.

posted by Anonymous on May 28, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Decent book to read.

Sudhir Venkatesh, who was a student at University of Chicago that studied sociology, took an eccentric approach to examining the African American community in Chicago. Venkatesh, after meeting the gang leader from the Black Kings, became absorbed into the culture. He ad...
Sudhir Venkatesh, who was a student at University of Chicago that studied sociology, took an eccentric approach to examining the African American community in Chicago. Venkatesh, after meeting the gang leader from the Black Kings, became absorbed into the culture. He admired the dangers and existence of a gang member living in the infamous Chicago projects. J.T., Venkatesh’s association to the Black Kings, slowly brings him in and reveals to him the true life within the gang. As time passes by, Venkatesh begins understanding the connections and the tangling dependence between numerous parties. Gangs, poor residents, police, drug addicts, dealers, and even politicians, all take part in the workings of the Black Kings. Venkatesh explains the thought process of gang members which is that they believe they are doing only what is. During his experience, he witnesses violence firsthand that is inflicted by the gangs and how order is kept. The first beating he experiences reminds him that violence plays a big role in gang life. It is essential to sustain their particular way of life. Throughout the book, Venkatesh excels at giving facts that answer the common questions asked about the projects and gives a unique view of looking at places, such as the Robert Taylor housing struggling to survive as a community. The hard truths, such as the presence of hookers, prostitution, drugs, and unnecessary violence, present in the projects is also touched on through Venkatesh’s experiences with the many. He brings understanding to the viewpoint of those, like the squatters and young new gang members, who feel trapped into accepting life with the Black Kings. He recognizes that with his research he compromised his own integrity. He observed men like C-Note get beat up and illegal actions such as drug deals. However, the information he provides through “Gang Leader for a Day” exposes the dark truth in the hidden lies behind the walls of the projects.

posted by APenglishPG on January 8, 2012

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    Posted November 30, 2009

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