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Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist…
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Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (2008)

by Sudhir Venkatesh

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942339,236 (3.93)35
  1. 00
    Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both authors have spent a long time with a community of the very poor and have produced sympathetic and very insightful books about how the "underclass" see, and manage their interactions with, the rest of society.
  2. 00
    Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal by Marie Jahoda (jcbrunner)
    jcbrunner: Both Marie Jahoda and Sudhir Venkatesh went into the field to observe their subjects. Jahoda studied Austrian unemployed workers during the Great Depression, Venkatesh black kids in a Chicago ghetto, offering new perspectives into strange worlds.
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» See also 35 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
This is a remarkable book, and i am glad that I picked it up. To start with, I am amazed by his courage, and his gumption. In breaking the rules, I think that he earned a lot. He also learned a lot from the gang leaders he hung around with, though he does not explicitly acknowledge this.

The revelations of different aspects of their lives, as well as their abilities as business men is something that he brings out very well. He does not approve of their life, and this is something that he expresses. I am not sure if he fully appreciated or sympathised with the conditions that brought them to the gangster life.

In the end, he moves on, and they do not. There is a bit of sadness in this, and this comes through at the end. ( )
  RajivC | Apr 15, 2014 |
Non-fiction. I can't remember why I had this story on my "to-read" list in the first place, besides that maybe it was an intriguing idea. A sociologist entrenches himself in a Chicago gang and learns all the ins-and-outs, how they function, what they do to survive, make money, adapt. How do you live as a criminal? Gangs are one of the greatest cultural unknowns, perpetuated by TV and movie myths gorged with gangsta flavor and overhyped drama.

They don't come close to telling the real story. Day-to-day life is different -- punishment for breaking rules is meted out with punches and prevention from selling crack. Rewards are small. There are efforts to bring together gangs in midnight basketball tournaments. Drive-bys tend to be back-and-forth scuffles until two gang members negotiate for peace. Most families work communally to provide (one apartment in the projects might have a working oven, another a working refrigerator, another a TV). Wheels are greased with bribes and favors. Families blend together and gang ties determine what you can and can't do.

This book does a really good job of showing how gangs work. The problem is at this point, it's a little dated. The research is taken from the early 90's. There's no mention of cell phones or Internet. So sadly, everything might have changed. ( )
  theWallflower | Mar 14, 2014 |
I liked this memoir quite a bit, with its aim of bringing the reader in to the alien world of the Chicago ghetto at the height of the crack trade. Though the largest portion of the book is concerned with the workings of the individuals making up the gang, the sections devoted to the other power players on the scene - the building president, the community organizer, and the local cop - are equally fascinating. Some of his encounters show him right on the edge of something about to go violently wrong, yet the idea that the gang leader's promise of protection was enough to keep him out of the the worst situations seems to be plausible in the end. He goes a little bit out of his way describing how his own comfortable background posed an obstacle to understanding how the impoverished tenants made the hard choices they did, which I think is partly there as a bridge for the reader to make his or her own connection with the realities he's depicting. ( )
  rmagahiz | Dec 21, 2013 |
I decided to read this book because I was intrigued by the idea of someone seeing the inside workings of a gang; being so involved that they could become the gang leader for a day. I also wondered how that would work without the author implicating himself in illegal activities.

It takes a long time for Sudhir Venkatesh to reach a level of trust with the gang though, and becoming a gang leader for a day certainly wasn't what he had in mind when he set out to do his research. What he wanted to do was study the social structure of life in the projects. What he found though, was that the only way to understand the people who were living there was by gaining access via the local gang. Only then would members of the community open up to him, and at that point he starts to learn about the business-like social and political workings of the gang and the building leaders.

The world that the author reveals to the reader was almost incomprehensible to me, and I'm sure it would be to most people who have not lived in a similar environment. Also, the author does things in the name of research that most of us would avoid at all costs. Some of these include: hanging out with crack addicts, interviewing prostitutes, and going to gang leader meetings.

This book is a fascinating read, and one that I felt was a great tool for helping middle-class America see what life is like in inner-city gangs and the projects (or at least what it was like in the 80's and 90's). The projects that the author visited were subsequently torn down, but I am sure there are many aspects of poverty and desperation that remain the same regardless of location, and this book does an excellent job of highlighting them.

Gang Leader For a Day is a quick read, and Sudhir Venkatesh relates his experiences so skillfully that it could just as easily have been a novel that I was reading. There were some tense moments between the author and the gang members, and some scenes had me on the edge of my seat. There is a lot of swearing (the author reconstructs conversations to the best of his knowledge), and much usage of the "N" word by the gang members. Although the book does cover some heavy topics, it is balanced out with stories of friendship and a bit of humor. The author does a great job of helping the reader to see the real people behind the poverty and gang statistics, and that was what I appreciated the most about this book. ( )
  akreese | May 16, 2013 |
I neglected to add this to my Goodreads sooner as I read it some time ago on audio book. To this day, it is one of the BEST audio books I have ever heard. There are two voices, one for the author and one for the gang leader. The book is highly entertaining, fascinating, true, funny, and says a lot about race and class in Chicago. A rare inside look into gang culture from an outsider who became one of their own while being true to himself. Highly recommended! I may even read it again! ( )
  seekandfind | Apr 29, 2013 |
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During my first weeks at the University of Chicago, in the fall of 1989, I had to attend a variety of orientation sessions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014311493X, Paperback)

A New York Times Bestseller
Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of
Freakonomics

When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JT’s protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gang’s complex hierarchical structure. Examining the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT--two young and ambitious men a universe apart.

"Riveting." --The New York Times

"Compelling... dramatic... Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand." --Newsweek

"An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city." --Chicago Tribune

"The achievement of Gang Leader for a Day is to give the dry statistics a raw, beating heart." --The Boston Globe

"A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from viivd tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined." --The Economist

"A sensative, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype." --Finanical Times


(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:57 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Recounts the story of a young sociologist whose infiltration of a Chicago drug gang was originally introduced in the work "Freakonomics," describing the author's idealism, his friendship with gang leader JT, and his witness to the organization's crack-selling trade.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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