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Gang Leader for a Day

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  15,938 Ratings  ·  1,455 Reviews
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 Venkatesh managed to gain entrée into the gang, what he learned, and how his method revolutionized the academic establishment.

When Venkatesh
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Published January 10th 2008 by HarperAudio (first published 2008)
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Petra X
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
Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People curious about life in the projects and/or gang life
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
Apr 22, 2008 Marci rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 14, 2008 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Kressel Housman
If you’ve read Freakonomics, then you’ve already been introduced to this amazing story. As a grad student in sociology, Sudhir Venkatesh naively walked into a Chicago public housing project with the aim of researching urban poverty. Armed with a survey, he proceeded to interview the first people he saw, who just happened to be young, crack-dealing gang members. Because he is a dark-skinned ethnic Indian, neither white nor African American, the gang members assumed he was a Mexican from a rival g ...more
James Dittmar
Mar 06, 2016 James Dittmar rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. Sudhir clearly idolizes JT and I think this clouds his ability to view JT and his work objectively
2. Sudhir painfully recollects his utter lack o
Mar 27, 2008 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 21, 2008 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
May 08, 2010 Brian rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 17, 2009 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2016 Fryeday rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended by a friend who had just finished it as well as Freakonomics.

We meet Sudir as a new grad student at the University of Chicago. We learn that he grew up I think both in NY and LA, but in middle class suburbs of both. He finds a professor who wants to study the poor after venturing out into the southside neighborhoods of Chicago and deciding he wants to do something in that vein. He goes to an almost condemned project building with a very funny and subjectively offensive
Jan 12, 2016 Borum rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was a fast paced read.
It was interesting and emotionally involved journalism at best. However, it wasn't exactly what I expected, as I was hoping to gain more insight on the sociological or perhaps an economic (judging from his cowork with Levitt) aspect of the gang. I didn't expect this book to have any happy ending or that his work is going to have a major impact in social policy as he seemed to have in the outset. In fact, the title pretty much sums up his experience. As much as b
Sep 03, 2013 Leah marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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's academic imperialism to me...but I'm going to give this a chance hoping for something good.
Michael Flanagan
Apr 07, 2015 Michael Flanagan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sudhir Venkatesh once again shows his ability to take academic learning from the classroom to the streets and put a real life spin on it. In this book he takes sociology to a whole new level by becoming a part of the community he was studying. Ignoring all safety warning Sudhir enters the projects to see how it works from the street level.

I can hear all the academic minded screaming "NO, NO, NO" you cannot become a part of what you are studying. To them I say this book is a shining example of wh
Neil Hepworth
May 03, 2014 Neil Hepworth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How does one go about reviewing a book whose major premise is that, unless you live it, you can’t understand it?…Dude, I don’t know what to say.

Gang Leader for a Day is a gritty read - not for the gentle of heart - yet it is very accessible and easy to read, though you won’t want to plow through it in one sitting. It provides just what the back blurb promises: a look into the Chicago Projects and into a world most of us literally cannot imagine - nor would most of us want to. You’l
Feb 24, 2008 Reggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2008 Kerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 10, 2012 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Danielle Kim
Pretty crazy experience. A good story but wasn't academic enough for me.
Jamie HB
Jun 10, 2016 Jamie HB rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though many of Sudhir's reactions and accusations were rather naive, and made me think "he's going to get himself killed," I really enjoyed reading this book. I found it to be quite insightful, and if you are interested in learning more informally about gang economics and the way they think/do things, then I would highly recommend this book. It's written like he's telling a story, and the content is well organized.
May 07, 2016 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sudhir Venkatesh was a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, studying urban poverty. In an effort to interview those living in urban destitution, he grabbed a multiple-choice survey, and headed over to the Robert Taylor Homes - one of Chicago's most notorious housing projects.

After a tense introduction, Venkatesh befriended JT, a leader of Chicago's Black Kings gang. This book is Venkatesh's account of the decade he spent observing gang life in the projects. He followed JT around Robert Ta
Jul 08, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was on Mark Zuckerberg's "A Year of Books" list. I was intrigued by the title. A sociologist sets out to write his dissertation on his experiences and interactions with bang members. He immerses himself in an in-depth study on poverty and its economics in the Chicago Robert Taylor Housing projects. It's sad to see how the police, landlords, tenants, gangs, and other authority in the neighborhood work together. It's horrific corruption, extortion, and a dead end for those that want to g ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a good book to start off 2016 and to work towards one of my goals for this year to read more non fiction.

The study into the gang into america and sudhir's point of view makes for a really interesting read. I found my naive self finding it hard to believe that bthe stuff shown in films really happens. It gave a look in to how many end up being involved in crime activity and what that life actually entails.

This book left me intrigued to read some more of sudhir's work and research. I'd defini
Simply put - a must read if you live in America.
Eapen Chacko
Aug 21, 2016 Eapen Chacko rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sudhir Venkatesh must have grown up in a bubble in California, which certainly has really vicious gangs in Compton and in East LA. A son of an academic, he arrives at the University of Chicago to do his Ph.D. in Sociology, and then ventures outside of its bubble into the Chicago ghetto, and to the Taylor housing projects. He knows nothing about urban blacks, apparently, and nothing about gangs, drugs, and projects.

Nonetheless, he spends six years interviewing people in the projects who initiall
Sanjay Varma
Jul 26, 2016 Sanjay Varma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Any long-time resident of Chicago would enjoy reading this book, this glimpse of the culture of poverty and gangs, set in the notorious Robert Taylor homes.

I was born in Chicago and spent my childhood there, so I read the book with some preconceptions. There is an (imaginary) map you can overlay onto Chicagoland, which reveals a topography in which the lowest neighborhoods are black and the highest neighborhoods are white. Every child raised in Chicago learns to see this map, and as adults we st
Not a fan of this book. I find his methods ethically suspect mostly because of the power dynamics between researcher and subjects - it's never clear whether Venkatesh would go to bat for the Black Kings or the residents of the Robert Taylor homes if pressed by law enforcement. The fact that he is constantly agonizing about morality and ethics made it even worse. Dude, if you know you're bending the rules for your own benefit, maybe stop? I think my favorite moment in the book was when Venkatesh ...more
Derek Warnstedt
In Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh tells the story of himself, a college student at the University of Chicago. The reader follows Sudhir Venkatesh witness and participate in the lives of a group of drug-dealers in the Rob Taylor Homes in the south side of Chicago during the 1990’s. Sudhir Venkatesh befriends the leader of the most notorious gang in Chicago, Black Kings, a man by the name of J.T. Venkatesh was originally assigned by his professor to survey the people living in the Robert ...more
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Sudhir Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology, and the Committee on Global Thought, at Columbia University in the City of New York.

His most recent book is Gang Leader for a Day (Penguin Press). Gang Leader received a Best Book award from The Economist, and is currently being translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Italian, Polish, French and Portuguese. His previous wor
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“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.”
“As he met now with each sales director, J.T. would begin by grilling him with a standard set of questions: You losing any of your regulars? (In other words, customers.) Anybody complaining? (About the quality of the crack.) You heard of people leaving you for others? (Customers buying crack from other dealers.) Anybody watching you? (The police or tenant leaders.) Any new hustlers been hanging around? (Homeless people or street vendors.) You seen any niggers come around? (Enemy gangs.)” 0 likes
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