Reviewed by Steve McNerney, guest contributor–
Sudhir Venkatesh has written a highly engaging book on urban life, poverty, and crime. Uninspired by dry statistics and ivory-tower analysis, Venkatesh ventured into the day-to-day lives of urban gangsters in Chicago and has produced an alluring, disturbing, and surprising ethnographic narrative. Gang Leader For A Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets recaps the time he examined, up-close-and-personal, the lives of characters most Americans only read about in the crime pages of big city newspapers.
In 1989, as a student at the University of Chicago, Venkatesh met with his academic advisor, William Julius Wilson. Wilson is the most eminent living scholar on poverty and race. At that time Wilson was interested in the “the difference between growing up in a neighborhood that was surrounded by other poor areas and growing up poor but surrounded by an affluent neighborhood.” Venkatesh agreed to assist with the study. Equipped with questionnaires he began his endeavor–one that would run its course far longer than he could have imagined and morph well beyond the task of data collection. Read the rest of this entry »