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Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets | [Sudhir Venkatesh]

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

The story of the young sociologist who studied a Chicago crack-dealing gang from the inside captured the world's attention when it was first described in Freakonomics. Gang Leader for a Day is the fascinating full story of how Sudhir Venkatest managed to gain entree into the gang, what he learned, and how his method revolutionized the academic establishment.
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Publisher's Summary

The story of the young sociologist who studied a Chicago crack-dealing gang from the inside captured the world's attention when it was first described in Freakonomics. Gang Leader for a Day is the fascinating full story of how Sudhir Venkatest managed to gain entree into the gang, what he learned, and how his method revolutionized the academic establishment.

When Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago's most notorious housing projects, he was looking for people to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty. A first-year grad student hoping to impress his professors with his boldness, he never imagined that as a result of the assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade inside the projects under JT's protection, documenting what he saw there.

Over the next seven years, Venkatesh got to know the neighborhood dealers, crackheads, squatters, prostitutes, pimps, activists, cops, organizers, and officials. From his privileged position of unprecedented access, he observed JT and the rest of the gang as they operated their crack-selling business, conducted PR within their community, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang's complex organizational structure.

In Hollywood speak, Gang Leader for a Day is The Wire meets the University of Chicago. It's a brazen and fundamentally honest view into the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, often corrupt struggle to survive in what is tantamount to an urban war zone. It is also the story of a complicated friendship between Sudhir and JT: two young and ambitious men a universe apart.

©2008 Sudhir Venkatesh; (P)2008 HarperCollins Publishers

What the Critics Say

"Gang Leader for a Day is an absolutely incredible book. Sudhir Venkatesh's memoir of his years observing life in Chicago's inner city is a book unlike any other I have read, equal parts comedy and tragedy." (Steven D. Levitt, co-author, Freakonomics)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.4 (785 )
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  •  
    Jessica C. Yusuf Pearland, TX USA 12-09-13
    Jessica C. Yusuf Pearland, TX USA 12-09-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting, Insightful, Entertaining"
    What made the experience of listening to Gang Leader for a Day the most enjoyable?

    I felt like I was being told a cool story by someone who had been there and who knew how to tell a story. It could have sounded like a sociological paper but far from it. I hated to turn it off (which I had to do whenever the kids came in the room. Appropriate to the content but definitely R rated language).


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Gang Leader for a Day?

    I liked to hear about the 'off' times. When he wasn't with the gang leader or dealing with a 'crisis', when he was just hanging with the complex' residents, in a mother's kitchen or in the parking lot.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    His intonations. He's not African American or in a gang or from anything close to the life of the people he was representing but he sounded like he could have been.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    People are so very similar in their love for their kids and for a better life. And, sadly, their frustration when social structures and perceptions seem stacked against them.


    Any additional comments?

    When my kids get a little older, upper teens rather than younger, I will listen to this book again with them to provide perspectives and motivate discussion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nathan 10-16-13
    Nathan 10-16-13
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    2
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    "Took me to a different world."
    What made the experience of listening to Gang Leader for a Day the most enjoyable?

    The narrator has a tremendous voice that brought out the dark and sophisticated mood of the entire story. It felt as if I'd stepped into a whole new society from the other side of the world. Their way of life is so different from my middle class everyday life, it really blew my mind at times.


    What did you like best about this story?

    How Sudhir manages to build all of these relationships out of nothing in an extremely different part of his city.
    The book really gave me a fresh perspective on what it means to be in a gang, or protected by one. Definitely not how the media portrays it at times.


    Any additional comments?

    I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone. Very thought provoking.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joyce Koerner 08-15-13
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    "Highly recommended for everyone"
    What made the experience of listening to Gang Leader for a Day the most enjoyable?

    The performance was fantastic and I loved that the author read the last chapter


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Gang Leader for a Day?

    Every character was multidimensional, no one was simply 'poor' or a 'gang-banger' or a cop. Venkatesh did an amazing job of self-examining and that added so much. It was never a story of how things are or were, but rather how he perceived them to be.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, only because some parts were intense and others I needed to reflect on before continuing.


    Any additional comments?

    I feel like someone from the projects who read this book would have just as much of an opportunity to understand the alien world that was Venkatesh's experience and I learned looking through Venkatesh's eyes.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    pamela Pflugerville, TX, United States 04-06-13
    pamela Pflugerville, TX, United States 04-06-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Reads like a novel -- very well done"
    Would you listen to Gang Leader for a Day again? Why?

    probably not -- don't think I would get much more from it second time around. Very good first time through.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Liked it all


    If you could give Gang Leader for a Day a new subtitle, what would it be?

    The inside life of housing projects in the city


    Any additional comments?

    I was working with someone in a gang and wanted to understand them better. This gave me much better understanding but it is actually about much more than gangs -- it is more about the life of poverty in the housing projects in the city. Well written.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elisa Hong Kong, Hong Kong 03-28-13
    Elisa Hong Kong, Hong Kong 03-28-13 Member Since 2007

    I'll give everything a try

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved It"
    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book, the writing is festinating and lively. All the characters, i.e. the people the author met throughout his years with JT's gang. The story and his experiences though amazing, I was most impressed by how he used the book to remind us that sometimes, it pays to stay quiet. Sometimes you can learn so much more by listening, even when in an unexpected place and from unexpected people.

    This book is I think, one of the best autobiographies I've read. You should read it. There is so much you can learn, one of which is the lesson is to learn to accept others and not let appearance to deceive you as well as the levels of relationships explored and discussed in Gang Leader for a Day.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stuart 01-20-13
    Stuart 01-20-13
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    "Very Good"

    This is not my usual genre. I tend to stick to thrillers. However this was compelling, interesting, and informative. The writing holds the attention and the performance is top notch. This was worth straying from fiction.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Noah Toronto, Ontario, Canada 12-30-12
    Noah Toronto, Ontario, Canada 12-30-12 Member Since 2006
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    "My only complaint is that it wasn't long enough"
    Where does Gang Leader for a Day rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Great book, one of my handful of favourites so far


    What did you like best about this story?

    While being a true story with incredible insight into "living in the projects", the story is captivating and as good or better than fiction.


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    There are some reviews that criticize the narrator. I disagree. I thought the narrator did a good job at bringing out some of the different personalities and characters.


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommend this book especially if you like to get a little education while reading something enjoyable.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    09-21-12
    09-21-12 Member Since 2009
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    "A gritty, thought-provoking, eye opener. wow."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. However understand that this book chronicles 4 years that the author spent living among the gangs of the Chicago housing projects. It's not intended to be a fluffy story. If you really want to understand how a gang organizes itself, draw parallels to to modern business, get more information about the Freakonomics chapter about gangs and economics, or try to better understand those living in the projects, this is an awesome listen.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It really changed my attitude about why people live the way they do, why they don't accept help, and why they would turn a blind eye to what I consider appauling behavior. At times I had to walk away for a while to process the information, which is a good thing. It tells me I'm really giving consideration to the book. It took me far outside my comfort zone. At times I loathed the subjects and at other times I wanted to invite them out for coffee. Good job Sudhir. I found JT rather likeable.


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The narrator added a grit to the story that made me feel like I was living in the projects. Had I read it myself, it would have been a fluffier story with flowers, puppies, and ice cream in it. The story would have suffered had I read it myself.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I stumbled upon this audio book and remembered the authors name from a chapter in Freakonomics. Since Freakonomics makes my top three books list, I gleefully purchased this book. However I had to listen on commutes, so it took me a couple of days to finish. Good thing too. It gave me time to contemplate the actions of the subjects and change my attitude toward them. (Thank you Sudhir)


    Any additional comments?

    So grateful I got to listen to this book. When reading Freakonomics, I always wanted more information. This book deeply satisfied that desire. Delighted Sudhir lived to tell the tale.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steven J. Dick Youngsville, LA, United States 04-24-12
    Steven J. Dick Youngsville, LA, United States 04-24-12 Member Since 2005

    Say something about yourself!

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    "A mix of raw notes and stories"
    If you could sum up Gang Leader for a Day in three words, what would they be?

    academic
    Engrossing
    Thoughtful


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    This book offers an interesting look at the data gathering process while crafts the kind of stories that I would expect to hear at a really good dinner party. It is not the type of story you would find in the nonfiction section. It is a raw data stream mixed with the light analysis of an academic researcher. I found it exciting and thought provoking.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No but because I wanted to think about what I heard. As a professor myself, I wanted to play with the concepts in my mind that I heard in the book. I was always excited to go back.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Germaine Okotoks, AB, Canada 12-26-11
    Germaine Okotoks, AB, Canada 12-26-11
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    "Fascinating experience"

    I could easily imagine the expressions and emotions of the characters. The author takes us on a journey that few even witness from the outside, much less get to be a part of.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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