If you've ever wondered what it's like to deal crack cocaine on the Southside of Chicago, this is the book for you. For most people the war on drugs is a pretty remote reality. Newspaper articles and T.V. reports come and go, but none of these ever really communicate what the drug economy is actually like, or indeed what the lives of dealers and users consist of. In what can only be described as a suicide mission into gang culture Venkatesh successfully infiltrates and gains the trust of a number of crack dealers all with the goal of documenting what live in the projects is really like. While he had already written several academic books on his research, Gang Leader for a Day represents his first effort writing for the general public, and it is a complete success.
Venkatesh has an uncanny understanding of what kinds of questions people have about gangs and he is very good throughout the book of explaining not only how a gang operates but what the internal structure is like, as well as depicting the home live of the average gangster. What the reader sees in Venkatesh's book is perhaps one of the few honest attempts at describing America's ghettos, one that doesn't villify or lionize the residents, or indeed the government and police force, but instead tries to describe the often complex relationships between gangs, government and civilians.
Gang Leader is a quick read, but requires a fair amount of attention as it contains a lot of research and meaty details. It does drag in some places though, as the author sometimes takes digressions into memoir and self-analysis that are less interesting than his descriptions of gang life. This lapses are easily outweighed by the general quality of the book and its fascinating subject.