Gang Leader For A Day – A Review

This review came from a non-blogger friend of mine:

Gang Leader for a Day is a fun and easy read. It really sucks you in and doesn’t let go, which I think is a real credit to Stephen Dubner (given that other Venkatesh books I’ve read don’t have nearly the same story-telling charm). For me this was a real eye opener about things I’m able to take for granted (like that the cops or the ambulance will show up if I call them). It was also an interesting look at the benefits that a gang can provide to the community (like when J.T. lends out young gang members to run errands for the elderly), even while providing great harm in other ways.

One part that stuck out to me was on page 241 after Sudhir’s car is broken into. He says, “After this talk with Reggie, I began to fear the police much more than I had ever feared J.T. and the gangs.” If even an outsider can come to that conclusion, then it’s no wonder that the people in the neighborhood are so distrustful of the police and look to the gang for protection.

Venkatesh’s recollection of trying to teach the gang’s high schoolers during the teacher’s strike made me once again wonder what, if anything, we can do about schooling in poor, urban neighborhoods. While Venkatesh was not a trained teacher, I wonder how much more success the local high school teachers can have in keeping the kids in line and encouraging them to take an interest in school. And then all those distractions have to severely hinder the kids who actually do want to learn.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking book, even if it sometimes left me with more questions (like how can this society be “fixed”) than answers.

You can read HDW’s review here and read Molls’ review and discuss here.

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