Gang Leader for a Day: a Rouge Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

Takeaway: Poverty, the reasons for poverty and the ways out of poverty are never simple. Good, rich stories are one way to show the complexity.

Purchase Links: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition

I love reading books when I have some outside references to the setting.  Part of the book The Magician was set in Paris.  We went to Paris two years ago to visit friends so I recognized some of the places in the book.

This book is set in Chicago.  I lived in the Chicago for 11 years and went to University of Chicago (where the author was during the main of this book), so I am well aware of the neighborhoods and issues he is talking about.  The basic story is about the author trying to learn about gangs.  He basically just picks a neighborhood and shows up and starts talking to people.  When he is stopped and held (basically kidnapped) by some gang members he gains some trust. Over the next several years, with some luck and a lot of time, he learns about the lives of real people in a context of poverty and gangs.

I have never really had any dealings with gangs, but I worked at a homeless shelter (often with lots of gang or former gang members), a drug rehab program and with an after school program in a different public housing complex.  This is a really good book about the myriad of issues that face the poor in the US.  Poverty, especially concentrated urban poverty, is not a simple issue.  It can’t be solved by better government or better public policy by itself.  It can’t be just a pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  There are not a lot of answers in this book but there are a lot of description of the issues.  It is the way that real stories should be told.  This should be required reading for any one that wants to look deeper in to the issues of poverty in the US.

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