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
"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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone. Very thought provoking.
The performance was fantastic and I loved that the author read the last chapter
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.
No, only because some parts were intense and others I needed to reflect on before continuing.
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.
probably not -- don't think I would get much more from it second time around. Very good first time through.
Liked it all
The inside life of housing projects in the city
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.
I'll give everything a try
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.
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.
Great book, one of my handful of favourites so far
While being a true story with incredible insight into "living in the projects", the story is captivating and as good or better than fiction.
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.
Highly recommend this book especially if you like to get a little education while reading something enjoyable.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
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.
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.
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