Gangs, Poverty and Sociology

I recently finished Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh.

The was a look at what day-to-day life in Robert Taylor Housing Projects in Chicago, Illinois by a newbie sociological researcher. The book read more like a memoir, than a research paper. It provided characters that came to life on the page. The book, ultimately, was about how the gang interacted with its surrounding community and how intertwined the neighborhood residents and the gangs were.

One of the most surprising things I learned in the book was how the gang leaders charged a tax of residents and business in the buildings, in exchange for protection.

Overall, I found the book fascinating and an opportunity to confront stereotypes and misconceptions that I had about poverty and gangs. I definitely recommend the book! (Be prepared for descriptions of violence and strong language!)

I had previously read some of Sudhir’s writing when it was in Freakonomics. Here’s a TED talk that describes the chapter in Freakonomics:

Other things on the internet related to this book:

  • The author describing his book with video clips from his documentary:



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