Very engaging read that you might be tempted to plow through in one sitting. (Thus making it a good choice for a plane trip.) It will keep you interested and amazed. You may even laugh out loud a time or two. Which is an interesting comment to make about a sociological study of the Chicago urban poor. Very accessible reading.
This is not an academic endeavor but rather a personal retelling of events the author experienced during graduate school. Assigned to collected demographic data for a research project at the University of Chicago, the author meets and is befriended/saved by the leader of a local gang. During the course of their acquaintance, he meets the neighborhood folks - dealers, gang members, crackheads, squatters, prostitutes, pimps, activists, cops, organizers, and officials.
The focus is mostly on one apartment building in a set of high-rises housing projects home to close to 40,000 people. I found interesting the down-play, read acceptance, of the criminal aspects of the activities described in the book. Put in context, those activities are tricky to label simply good or bad, right or wrong. At the same time, while at times stating some assumptions he had interacting with the gang members and people in the community, he is not judgmental of what he observes. Yes he is a bit naive, but then so am I. The story is very believable and provided me with a different look at lives of the poorest people living in inner-city America.
You may have heard a bit about this in Freakanomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I found this a good accompaniment to 'Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx' (see Prospector).
TIGER link: HV6439.U7 C46 2008