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The first lines of the foreword make you sit up, even if you have heard of the book you are beginning to read- Stephen J. Dubner writes ” I believe that Sudhir Venkatesh was born with two abnormalities: an overdeveloped curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of fear”. I speak of a very interesting book I just read: ” Gang Leader For A Day ” by Sudhir Venkatesh. The blurb says ” A rogue sociologist crosses the line” !

This is a very unusual story of in-depth research done about the lives of the urban poor, African-Americans in Chicago, conducted by Sudhir Venkatesh, during his doctoral research at the University of Chicago. To understand the issues, he befriended a drug dealer and went on to spend nearly a decade staying closely in touch with a wide variety of poor who made up that neighbourhood.

The story resonates with what “community ” means and the “rules” and “processes” formed to keep life going- even if it means pushing cocaine. This is primarily seen as a business proposition which provides the dollars for people to live on.

The story itself is written in an engaging style and has elemants of a thriller though it is really the field work notes of a committed sociological research scholar. Venkatesh’s work caught the attention of University of Chicago economist Steve Levitt and his co-author, journalist Stephen J. Dubner who wrote a book called “Freakonomics” in which some parts of this research was first reported.

Venkatesh is today the William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and often contributes to the Freakonomics blog in the New YorK Times.

Want to know more about Sudhir? Here is his website.

I am impressed with the candor of the account, the extraordinary commitment shown by Venkatesh in the course of his research and the fact that he still retains objectivity as he tells his tale- an extraordinary one, by any standards.

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This is Post No: 304 of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.