Gang Leader for a Day – Book Review

gang-leader1Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

At the beginning of May my bookclub tried something new, a ‘bring the boys’ night.  Normally the club discusses books and wine, but we decided to go instead with beer and a boy-friendly book.  For our book we chose “Gang Leader for a Day” by Sudhir Venkatesh, partly because we thought the boys would find gangs interesting and partly because it takes place in Chicago (my husband and I are the only ones from the ‘burbs, everyone else actually lives in Chicago).

As far as being a boy-friendly book, “Gang Leader for a Day” definitely fit the bill.  My husband was a bit skeptical, but once he started it, I’d come into our room in the evenings and find him laying on the bed, engrossed in the book.  He isn’t a huge reader, but when something catches his attention, he’s all about it.

Sudhir Venkatesh was a grad student in Sociology at the University of  Chicago when he got involved in a gang.  Okay, that’s a little dramatic.  What actually happened is that he went into the poor neighborhoods surrounding the U of C and began asking people what it felt to be poor and black (seriously).  Turns out that’s maybe not such a good idea, as he was basically held hostage by a gang who thought he was Mexican and a spy for a rival gang planning a drive-by.  Strange as it may seem, the kidnapping doesn’t end up being all bad.  Through it, Sudhir meets the charismatic gang leader J.T. with whom he will spend an inordinate amount of time over the next few years and through whom he will get access to the Robert Taylor projects for his thesis on the economy of poverty.

This book was really interesting and I’m glad I read it, especially living in Chicago and having taught very close to where the events of this book took place.  That said, it did disappoint me in some ways.  Sudhir’s story was very interesting, but I expected him to grow as a person or learn something during his sojourn in the projects with the gang.  Either that, or I expected that he would write his experiences with a story arc.  Either way that would have made the book more memoir-ish, since it seemed too subjective for a real sociology book.  Interestingly, this lack of growth/story only bothered the girls in our group and none of the guys.

Definitely an interesting peek int the real life of gangs and projects in Chicago.  There is some absolutely heartbreaking stuff in here, and it helps you understand how people do reprehensible things to survive.  Pick it up as an interesting study, but don’t expect really stellar writing or much of a story arc.

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.


8 comments to Gang Leader for a Day – Book Review

  • Pam

    This looks good, if a little dark and depressing. It’s interesting that the guys didn’t seem bothered by the lack of development. I wonder hat that’s about.

  • THe book sounds perfect for a Chicagoland read. And what a super idea to include the men. Your club should do that once a year.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Awards! =-.

  • When I was in high school, I was fascinated with books about gangs – I think because that life was so far removed from anything I knew. Since this is a true story, I think I’d like it!
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Review: April & Oliver =-.

  • Thanks for the great review! Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pick this type of book up, but you convinced me to try it. Thanks.
    .-= Wisteria´s last blog ..Gettysburg Trip Photo Album – You Tube =-.

  • I used to work at the U of C and yep, I’m thinking that was not a great idea to interview people about their poverty! Sheesh. Scary place. Not sure if this is for me, but I bet my husband would like it.
    .-= Tara´s last blog ..Farmers’ Market – July 4 =-.

  • I just bought this book from the store a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t gotten around to reading it because I sort of purchased A LOT of books (lol) but am glad to have read a review by someone since it was such a impulse buy.

    Happy Sunday! :)
    .-= christina´s last blog ..Sunday Salon (07.05.09) =-.

  • I have been wanting to read this book. I am a little disappointed to hear that it was too subjective to be a sociology read yet he did not include any personal growth, making it more of a memoir read. Both genres are interesting to me, though, so I still might try this one. He has a lot of spunk (for a family-friendly word) to interview people about their poverty all random like that. I would probably be suspicious of him too if I was one of the neighborhood residents.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..TSS: June Round-Up! =-.

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