Wook Kim
January 04, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

In a commendable desire to observe firsthand the day-to-day life of the urban poor, Sudhir Venkatesh, an Indian-born sociology grad student, headed to Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor Homes. (If Venkatesh’s name seems familiar, he was featured in the ’05 best-seller Freakonomics.) His nearly decade-long research yielded valuable data, exposed the corporationlike workings of the street-level drug trade, and formed the basis for this riveting account of life in a hope-deprived hell. Throughout Gang Leader for a Day, Venkatesh demonstrates natural curiosity, a sometimes comic innocence, and utter fearlessness. B+

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