Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gang Leader for a Day

I swear that I took a picture of this book, but I can't find it...so you'll have to go without. As sad as you are, I'm worse because I love pictures. I love pictures so much more than words.

But, I have a book to review and more importantly I have a list that I can check something off of and nothing brings me quite so much joy as checking something off of a list. Gang Leader for a Day was a compelling read. The author recounts his time studying the Chicago projects and its gangs. He didn't just study the projects, he basically lived in them and became an honorary member of the Black Kings gang. Wild right, but sort of inappropriate for a sociologist student at the University of Chicago.

The information that Sudhir Venkatesh obtains is fascinating. He sees the gang at work, watches how they recruit, how they make their money and conduct their business, how they run the projects and justify their crimes. In the projects, the gangs run things like a large and corrupt corporation. They are often brutal and unfair, but surprisingly community oriented and just. It's bizarre.

Towards the end of the book, the author really gets into his moral and ethical dilemma. He's becoming more of an accomplice to crimes than a casual observer. He wonders if he's crossing a line...and he is. About midway through the book you start to see that Venkatesh has become so enmeshed with the gang that he's no longer a subjective researcher. I actually think it helps his research in this case. The gang members and other residents of the projects became more human which you don't often find in these types of scholarly studies.

It was good, but perhaps a bit long. 4/5 or 7/10 stars.

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