I posses a natural tendency to be a very curious person. I want to know what makes the world work. My curiosities extend to include the root causes of historical events and social movements. Out of the many topics that I am interested in, there are a few random subjects that for some reason I am completely infatuated with. Some of the most random subjects are things like commercial aviation, Richard Nixon, the 1960s, hydraulic equipment, world war two and strangely enough, the inner-city crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. Recently the book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh piqued my interest. The author recounts his fascinating past as a University of Chicago graduate student doing research at the notorious Robert Taylor Homes during the crack-fueled days of the 1990s. Over the seven years Venkatesh spent with the people of the housing project, he managed to earn the trust of a mid-level gang leader that ran the crack trade in and around Robert Taylor. This unprecedented access to the inner-workings of one of the largest housing developments in the country gave Venkatesh admission to a hidden world of crime, poverty and government corruption. The author goes to great length to painstakingly detail the economics of the crack game and the black-market hustle that takes place all over inner-city America. Sudhir Venkatesh first gained recognition for his contributions to Stephen Dubner’s book Freakonomics.
“Sudhir Venkatesh was born with two abnormalities,” says Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner, “an overdeveloped curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of fear. A lot of writing about the poor tends to reduce living, breathing, joking, struggling, sensual, moral human beings to dupes who are shoved about by invisible forces. This book … shows, day by day and dollar by dollar, how the crack dealers, tenant leaders … cops, and Venkatesh himself tried to construct a good life out of substandard materials.”