Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets” as Want to Read:
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  11,270 ratings  ·  1,177 reviews
First introduced in Freakonomics, here is the full story of Sudhir Venkatesh, the sociology grad student who infiltrated one of Chicago's most notorious gangs

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 st...more
Hardcover, 302 pages
Published January 10th 2008 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2008)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Gang Leader for a Day, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Gang Leader for a Day

The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
179th out of 2,846 books — 4,858 voters
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankNight by Elie WieselUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon KrakauerInto Thin Air by Jon KrakauerThe Invention of Religion by Alexander Drake
Must Read Non-Fiction
92nd out of 1,239 books — 1,367 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Petra Xtra Crunchy
Sudhir Venkatesh had a problem when researching and writing this book. It was supposed to be pure sociology but turned out to be gonzo journalism. Venkatesh simply enjoyed being with the gang members. He enjoyed, it seemed, all aspects of gang life except the crime and violence. He liked the macho all-boys-together, he liked the idea of it being an alternative economy run by people who are not more or less corrupt and violent than the legitimate one. Some of them were even involved in charity wo...more
Marci
There is so little information about and so many stereotypes within mainstream America about how ghettos function, even though thousands of Americans live in them, that this book is a welcome contribution to poverty literature. As a sociologist-in-training, Sudhir Venkatesh stumbles upon a unique opportunity to gain a lense into the inner workings of the American ghetto when he wanders into one of the worst housing projects in Chicago clutching pens and a survey that asks, "How does it feel to b...more
Jill
Mar 14, 2008 Jill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sociologists, and All Those Who Love an Unusual Read
Wow. I wasn't sure how I would feel about this book, since I tried one of the author's earlier books, and liked the concept, but felt that it was a little too academic. This book, however, I thought was an amazing read.

Sudhir Venkatesh, while a graduate student in sociology, accidentally finds himself befriending a gang leader, JT, at the height of the crack epidemic. The gang leader gives him an unprecented look at both life in the gang, and life in the projects for everyone where it is a majo...more
Caroline Stevens
I had mixed feelings about Venkatesh's book. It exposed and detailed a world that I knew nothing about, and peaked my curiosity to look into the subject matter of gangs and life in the projects in greater detail. Venkatesh did an excellent job of explaining the inner workings of life in the projects - the hierarchy in a gang, how a gang works with the surrounding community, the role the police play . . . the economics that drives everything.

However, he brought up a lot of important issues but m...more
Alex
This is a book that I’m glad I heard about first on the radio, because it is not represented well by its title or cover. The Sudhir Venkatesh on the book jacket, in his vintage leather coat with the collar up, arms folded in tough guy stance in front of derelict seeming housing projects slightly out of focus in the back ground, seems like a wannabe bad ass. And that’s not at all the impression you get from the memoir inside the book.

And the title—“Gang Leader for a Day”—makes it sound like you’r...more
Anna
Mar 27, 2008 Anna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: urbanists, Chicagoans
Gang Leader for a Day is hands down one of the best books I have ever read. Sudhir Venkatesh, whose research on gangs was first made famous in Freakonomics, wrote this memoir of how he came to become an active observer of the drug trade in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes (infamous public housing project) in late 1980s/early 1990s. Although it's nonfiction, the book reads like a narrative and it's incredibly engaging and page-turning suspenseful. Knowing that the events are real actually builds mor...more
Jamie
May 17, 2009 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone (especially Pamela)
Recommended to Jamie by: Lee Anne
After Lee Anne recommended this to me, I then uncovered his "what do real thugs think about the Wire" on the Freakonomics blog. So I finally read it. I can safely say I would have read it in 1 sitting if I hadn't taken breaks to watch the Euro. It is THAT good and currently sitting as my favorite book of the year.
It's a fascinating peak into "real people" in the Robert Taylor housing projects, and it would be depressing (so many instances in which people accept such horrible injustice as just t...more
Casey
If you live in Chicago, or have any interest in the lives of poor people in cities in the US you must read this book. Gang Leader for a Day is engaging, powerful, and believable. The only times I did not enjoy this book were when I couldn't deal with the difficult realities it laid out. This is not to say that it is bleak or a slog. The book moves at a cracking pace. The stories are personal and specific while painting a picture of a much larger world.
Leah
Sep 03, 2013 Leah marked it as to-read
Shelves: academic-me
Without reading a word I have to say I HATE uncritical ethnographies...without an explicit inclusion of the researcher's positionality to their participants I find it highly unethical...it's academic imperialism to me...but I'm going to give this a chance hoping for something good.
Reggie
Feb 24, 2008 Reggie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
I thought the chapter in Freakonomics on why drug dealers live with their mothers was fascinating. For that reason alone I had been looking forward to reading this book. It did not disappoint. I literally could not put this book down.

The book presents an enthralling inside look at life in Chicago's now defunct Robert Taylor Homes during the height of the crack epidemic of the late 80s to mid 90s. The primary focus is on the author's almost unfettered access to the Black Kings (a street gang resp...more
James Dittmar
How embarrassing! I can't believe Sudhir believes that this account is even remotely scholarly (as it should be, coming from an "expert" in the field--he has a responsibility to portray his research accurately as a representative of his discipline, even if this is meant for a popular audience).

There are several points that made this book ridiculous:
1. There is a strong current of homoeroticism between Sudhir and JT that is unresolved and clouds his ability to view JT and his work objectively
2....more
Kerry
A fascinating account of how this Indian-American grad student at the University of Chicago who grew up in the Cali suburbs befriends a gang leader (JT) in the Robert Taylor housing project and spends years getting to know him and the community.
Good cops. Bad cops. Drugs. Prostitution. Building Maintenance. Gang Turf. Soul Food. This book has it all. Through his experiences Mr. Professor paints a picture of the realities of what it means to live in the projects, how it feels to be black in a ne...more
Dave
Venkatesh begins his story as a university student who (stupidly) wanders into the Robert Taylor Homes of Chicago for a sociology project and ends it as a Sociology professor and a trusted confidant of a major Chicago gang leader. In between he befriends the residents of the ghetto, listening to their stories,interacting in their lives and humanizing them in the process. The book is very accessible, the narrative is tight and exciting and the characters are vivid. The lurid nature of inner city...more
Brian
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jackmccullough
What do people know about the Robert Taylor Homes? Mostly that it was considered to be one of the worst places in the country.

What do people know about the people who lived there? Almost nothing.

People in America need to know more about the lives of poor people. In this book, Sudhir Venkatesh recounts his six years of spending time with gang leaders, community leaders, and families at the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. He stumbles into his situation by encountering a group of young black men in...more
Sarah
I wouldn't say "rogue sociologist" as much as "naive and foolish sociologist who was awful damn lucky." I found this book fascinating, as he was a U of C student at the time I lived in Chicago (near the U of C), studying gangs and the projects a little over a mile from where I lived. I don't believe that the gang he was studying was the same one that ran my high school (I *believe* that was an offshoot of the Gangster Disciples), but it's all the old names and concepts that I was familiar with....more
Arminzerella
Sudhir Venkatesh was a graduate student in sociology when he became interested the plight of poor African Americans living just blocks away from the University of Chicago and wealthy, upper class, Hyde Park. Sudhir started hanging around in a nearby Chicago housing project and talking with some of the people who lived there. He even tried to administer one of the surveys put together by his department, but the residents of the project laughed at his questions (what does it feel like to be black...more
Abraham
A fantastic book. The author, Sudhir Venkatesh, is fearless, both in his willingness to go where most peers wouldn't and in his honesty in analyzing himself and his role in what he studies.

Unlike most sociologists, Venkatesh values the personal story over the story of data. That might make him a "bad" sociologist, but it offers the average reader honest insight into what is one of the most misunderstood aspects of American socioeconomics: the urban housing projects. If, like me, you didn't grow...more
Joe
*Note: The author of this book, Sudhir Venkatesh, has a very long name. There are way too many letters in Venkatesh for me to type it over and over. In fact, my fingers are exhausted from the three times I've already typed it. Therefore, the author will be referred to as S.V. from here on out.*

One of the most popular chapters in Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's book Freakonomics centers on the economics of a Chicago street gang. So you can imagine people were excited when they got word of Gan...more
Alice
I really enjoyed this book. I felt like the author portrayed the world of the urban poor in a way that most middle class Americans never see. Every one living in Robert Taylor projects in Chicago is just trying to survive and enjoy life to the best of their abilities. The pimps, the young moms, the prostitutes, the drug lords, the gang foot soldiers, the squatters, the elderly... They do what they can to make their lives tolerable, if not a bit enjoyable. The author, Sudhir, sees that everyone l...more
Emily
I learned about Dr. Sudhir Venkatesh through Freakonomics and the chapter on why gang members still live with their moms. "Gang Leader for a Day" takes that one small chapter and shows the decade of the work and research that originally went into it.

When Sudhir Venkatesh arrives at the University of Chicago to work on a PhD in sociology, he decides to leave Hyde Park and "go exploring" in the Projects. He ends up pulled into studying in very close detail the lives of gang members, hustlers, pros...more
Jenae
I think the author's purpose for writing the book was to show how the projects work. Gangs really aren't that bad sometimes. The writer got held hostage but ended up befriending the leader of the gang eventually. The man was really nice, charasmatic, and fun. Doesn't sound like a gang leader at all! Also, the gang actually protects the people of the projects because the cops can't do it all. I'm not saying gangs are bad, or they should be more abundant. I'm just saying there are small things abo...more
Wayne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah
Feb 17, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in social issues and problems
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrice Sartor
4.5 stars! I give a lot of credit for my enjoyment of this audio CD to Reg Rogers, the incredibly talented voice actor/narrator. His inflections were so honed, his pacing so perfect that I felt lost in the world of the Black Kings and the grad student work that Sudhir was doing on them. I knew Rogers was good, yet I guess I must've taken him for granted, because the author read the last chapter, and (bless his heart) Venkatesh's lack of ability to successfully narrate his own book was immediatel...more
Carmen
Nov 15, 2013 Carmen rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People curious about life in the projects and/or gang life
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
This author is a moron. Even after spending years in the projects, he still doesn't know how things work. I was really blown away by his naivety and lack of common sense. He's surprised that gangs use violence. He's surprised when he finds out the gang has dealings in prostitution. He's happy when the gang leader takes an interest in the author's pet project to find out exactly how much everyone's earning and then is shocked, shocked I tell you, when the gang leader uses that to extort more mone...more
Jeff
Its sort of like reading an episode of "The Wire" -- subject matter's more or less the same, you know theres some fact in there somewhere, but you just wonder what you're doing to yourself by consuming and in some ways, ostensibly, internalizing information this way.

The guys got chops, as a writer and I would assume as an academic, but I can't shake the feeling that this attempt to straddle the boundaries between academic and popular or journalistic writing, with Venkatesh on the cover looking l...more
Elizabeth
Apr 07, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to learn about the crack gangs and housing projects on the South Side of Chicago
Shelves: social-justice
I first heard of Sudhir Venkatesh even before he was featured in Freakonomics, when my husband took Steve Levitt's course, "The Economics of Crime". Ever since I first heard the anecdote of the first-year sociology grad student who showed up to the housing projects on the South Side with a questionnaire asking "how do you feel about being poor and black? Very good, good, neither good nor bad, bad, or very bad", and who somehow endeared himself to the local Black Kings crack-dealing gang, I wa...more
Erin
What comes to mind when you think of an inner-city gang? Personally I think poverty, I think amoral, drug-dealing creeps contributing to the sludge of society, I think HBO’s The Wire. I’ll be honest—I don’t think of gang members as real people with problems like mine. But after reading Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, my perception of gang life, and the people surrounding it, has been turned on its head. The beauty of Venkatesh’s book is that it...more
Lamont Lucas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Ninjas Be Reading: Week 1 discussion points 1 7 Apr 02, 2013 03:49PM  
  • In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance
  • Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City
  • More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
  • High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing
  • Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse
  • There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America
  • Our America
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
  • Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
  • Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town
  • Sidewalk
  • Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago
  • American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation
  • Black Is the New White
  • The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
  • McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld
  • Mob Star: The Story of John Gotti
  • The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto Youth, Globalization, and the Law Rogue sociologist for a day

Share This Book

“I'm not sure I'm ready for another big research project just yet," I said.
Oh Yeah?" he said, handing me one of the beers. "What else you going to do? You can't fix nothing , you never worked a day in your life. The only thing you know how to do is hang out with niggers like us."
I nearly choked on my beer when he summarized my capacities so succinctly - and, for the most part accurately.”
11 likes
More quotes…