Gang Leader For A Day – A Review and Discussion

I was first introduced to Sudhir Venkatesh through his work featured in “Freakonomics”. He contributed to Chapter 3, titled “Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” The average drug dealer makes $3.30 bucks an hour, but they’d actually make more at McDonald’s. That statistic has stuck with me since I’ve read the book.

When I heard that Dr. Venkatesh had written his own book, focusing on similar issues, I really wanted to read it. I sat down and read this book in a single afternoon. It’s fascinating, very well written, and it paints an incredibly detailed pictures of a world I have no contact with.

One of the many criticisms I’ve read about the book is that it isn’t “academic” enough. This book is significantly less academic than a lot of his other works. It certainly isn’t a peer-reviewed, academic, journal publication. The story is as much about his growth and personal issues as it is about the community he is working with. He doesn’t discuss methodology, etc. I don’t find that this detracts from the book, but I didn’t anticipate it being a truly academic work.

Venkatesh’s plan to study this community is flawed, from a social science perspective. He lies to J.T. about the purpose of the work, which is a big no-no in this sort of research. He doesn’t familiarize himself with the laws (as shown by his surprise when he learns that he isn’t shielded, like a journalist is.) He doesn’t seem to have a relationship with an established researcher, which is how he ends up in the position to write the book. (I don’t know any academics who would hand a new graduate student a stack of surveys and tell them to go door to door and get them filled out.)

Those things being said, I loved this book. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to grow up in that environment. I can’t imagine being more afraid of the police than the gangs. I can’t imagine being forced to bribe officials to get basic home repairs. These things don’t happen in the world I live in.

This book is not uplifting. You’re not going to feel better after you read this. It doesn’t have a happy ending. But it is definitely worth the read.

You can read HDW’s review here and the review of a non-blogger friend of mine here.

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