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 previously read Freakonomics so I knew part of the story about Sudhir Venkatesh. Gang Leader for a day was even more vivid and fascinating - frankly, no offense sociologists, but I was surprised the narration was so good. You really find yourself wondering how Sudhir had the nerve to put himself in the situations he did.
All in all great story.
As a former Chicagoan from the South Side (but never affiliated with a gang--honest), I really loved learning the detail of the gangs, who lived so close and yet so far away from the blue-collar, middle-class. Well written and constructed, empathetic yet calling out those who had self-serving agendas.
A superb excursion into the evolution of the gang scene in Chicago in recent decades! Having read There Are No Children Here by a Chicago Tribune journalist (sorry, name escapes me...) while in grad school, this was an awesome follow-up on how the residents in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago have coped with the challenges of everyday life and the consequences of well-intentioned policy makers who just don't get it. Highly recommend reading the other book first, then listening to Sudhir's excellent ethnographic research to understand how intricate socio-economic networks have evolved and sustained themselves over time. Very eye-opening and a great read!!
a reader from NYC
This book is great!
Some may see it as outdated since the projects where it takes place have been demolished. But the insights it provides into the lives of the urban underclass are substantial and timeless, and told in a very engaging manner.
This was much more interesting than my dissertation research! I was sad when I had finished it as it had been perfect listening while walking.
The author's reports on his experiences while getting to know the entire community impacted by the gang made me wonder what is happening with these people now.
Say something about yourself!
what a great book. good idea for a story.. i loved how j.t. was precieved as a man after god's own heart.. this would make a good xmas gift for a tough guy teenager or a dad..
I have been exposed to a lot of this culture throughout school and not much in the book surprised me. The author does an excellent job of telling his story and painting a vivid picture of the culture.
A truly unbelievable story from a self-described "naive, middle class outsider" who gets honest and full access to the world of one Chicago's toughest housing projects.
Amazing insight into the different subcultures (gang leaders, members, hustlers, single moms, police and more) living in the projects and how they co-exist and try to survive. Not only unbelievably illuminating (especially for those who have only driven by the projects on the highway) but also incredibly poignant as each of Sudhir's acquaintences comes to life as a real person trapped in a surreal world.
Have to agree that the narrator's attemps at character voices were pretty weak. However, this did little to damage the overall experience.
This is a fantastic autobiography detailing a man's experiences in graduate sociology research. It's a compelling "read" into inner workings of the Chicago projects. I have recommended this book to more people than any other I have read. I wish more biographies read this well!
After listening to "Freakanomics" I was very excited to "read" this book. It did not disappoint. Extremely interesting and direct with an almost surprising lack of sentimentality- just the facts, almost to a fault. While I loved the book as it is, I do sort of wonder if a biography of J.T.'s life would not have been better, for different reasons.
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