Read cut and paste writing like "The Ballad of Danny Wolfe" - then read this book - night and day - it's the difference between boots on the ground reporting and and regurgitating stories from the Wpg Free Press. In this book you get real stories, real ideas, real info. Two stories on "little chicago" - you be the judge.
This book gives us a deeper understanding of how the "have nots" survive with their own economy and set of unspoken laws in order to survive. Drugs, killing and prostitution are not necessarily condoned but explained in a larger context of how these people are trying to survive because the mainstream life is leaving them outside. It gave me a better understanding of what life is like "inside the projects".
Like many other readers, I was first introduced to Sudhir Venkatesh in a chapter of Steven Leavitt's 2005 bestseller, Freakonomics. Then I sort of forgot about him until I saw this new book circulating at the library, and picked it up. While a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago, Venkatesh takes the term "field work" to a whole new level, essentially becoming an honorary member of the gang he sets out to study. When his initial goal of approaching the Chicago housing projects with an armful of formal surveys is met with laughter and derision by the residents, Venkatesh isn't deterred, but abandons that angle and instead begins hanging around the buildings, getting to know the residents as human beings and gaining an insider's look at the complex and mysterious details of gang management and the fascinating economics of life in the projects. While I found the book riveting and Venkatesh's experiences valuable, as a reader and social justice advocate I came away with feelings of hopelessness, as there is little reason to think that life will improve for many of the memorable characters, deserving and otherwise, the reader becomes acquainted with within the pages of the book.
When Venkatesh first entered an abandoned housing project in Chicago, he was simply looking for people to answer a multiple-choice survey about urban poverty. He never imagined that as a result of the assignment he would befriend a gang leader and spend the better part of the next decade inside the projects documenting what he saw there.
I found this book an engaging, easy to read exploration into a world that is completely foreign to me. Quite eye opening. There have been criticisms, like the title being somewhat misleading but in the book Venkatesh acknowledges he was Gang Leader in name only and is rebuked when he takes his role too seriously.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with any interest in class/poverty issues.
Hearing recently of his discredit as a prof at the U of C recently certainly colored the impression he gave of himself as naive.
The kindle format of this book is restricted to Kindle devices (no apps allowed). Because I have a kindle app, I can't read this book and I can't switch to a different digital format that is readable. I wish the library had clearly posted this Kindle restriction.
Wonderful insight. Kind of left me disappointed with the author though.
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