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)
A great listen. Anyone who's read Freakonomics will appreciate the full story that was touched on in Steven Levitt's book. Gang Leader for a Day is the in-depth look at the experiences of the author that was dealt with anecdotally in Freakonamics. This book will give you a much better understanding of the lives of tenants in Chicago Housing Authority projects. It will make understandable and logical the way people in poverty adopt coping strategies that seem outrageous to middle class folks who are unable to sympathize.
If you can't tell from the synopsis whether you'd enjoy this book, I highly recommend Freakonomics. It'll give you everything you need to know to realize that this book is worth the cost. If you're pretty sure you'll be getting BOTH those books, I'd recommend listening to THIS one first. The short treatment it gets in Freakonomics will just spoil the surprises in this one. Then you'll be able to skip over that section when get to it in Levitt's book.
Like most middle-class americans who grew up in the 1980's, the only contact I had with a "Crack Economy" was through movies.
Sudhir Venkatesh really pulls off the veil and lets you into a world so shockingly different... well it made my jaw drop more than once.
Expertly read by Reg Rogers, "Gang Leader for a Day" is the kind of audio book that keeps you listening in the parking lot 30 minutes after you arrive.
A real treat was having the author read the last chapter of the book. Hearing his voice somehow changed the perspective, if just slightly. A nice touch.
Sudhir also wraps up the book by taking some of the characters forward after his time with the BK's, another nice touch.
A highly recommended listen.
As an avid follower of the Freakonomics duo, I was anxious to read this book. I found the story was interesting and the characters compelling, but the story quickly devolved into a kind of "Lord of the Flies" tale--documenting how each person in the housing project used their arbitrary power over every other person they could. I found the ending rather abrupt and was left wanting to hear some sense of the sociological conclusions of the author. I got no sense that the author learned anything useful from the experience he so carefully describes in the book (beyond the economics of gang life already reported in Freakonomics). From a production standpoint, I think the author should have read the whole book, rather than just the last chapter and I think the musical interludes between chapters was bizarre.
As a middle class Chicago surbanite I have always been curious about gang life and the old Robert Taylor Homes. Curious if Chicago cops were really as currupt as Chicago's lower class black community made them out to be and just life in general as a gang me. My curiosities were satisfied in this book, extremely good. Worth the read (or listen).
I was amazed at the level of detail this person was able to gain from being so entrenched into the lives of so many people within the gang and projects. This books has many shocking stories and events is by far one of the most interesting books I've listened to so far. This is a must "listen" book!
I was excited to read this book since the chapter Why Crack Dealers Live with Their Moms was one of my favorite chapters of Freakonomics.
It didn't disappoint. All the characters were fascinating and I'd love to know more about where they ended up.
Having just finished the final episode of HBO's The Wire, this audiobook was the perfect desert to that fantastic series. They are both rich with complex characters.
This was one of the best audiobooks I've ever downloaded from Audible.
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. The author takes us on an almost accidental step into life in the Chicago Projects. He shows us a world where good and bad - friend and foe, are far more complicated than we'd like to think. The author does not editorialize or present any feasible solutions, but rather presents a once-in-a-lifetime look into a world and lifestyle that is entirely foreign to most Americans. Should be required reading for students of sociology.
An interesting book, perhaps not great, but interesting for folks who haven't spent much time in a big city and have a suburbanite's curiosity about violent urban gangs. The narration is just awful, sounds like a guy trying to imitate Jimmy Durante or that actor in Star Trek, Avery Brooks. The narrator doesn't have an ear for urban rhythms, he just gets in the way.
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.
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