Aged 16, walking around Chicago in , I chanced upon a city within a city on the Southside called Robert Taylor Homes, the biggest housing project on Earth. Although built as recently as , and a place where a curious white kid was welcome for a chat at the Black Panther food distribution point, I was later advised in a 'garden' between the red-and-cream blocks to get my 'white ass in a yellow cab and out of black town', which I did. Twenty-eight years later, I returned to a ravaged and bullet-scarred Robert Taylor Homes to write for this newspaper about how the project stretching 28 blocks along State Street was due for demolition. Over Easter weekend that year, the estate had recorded firearms incidents and seen the 'Romeo and Juliet' shooting of two young lovers from blocks controlled by rival gangs, the Cobras and Disciples. Walkways that architects once called 'streets in the sky' had been caged with chain-link wire after two boys dangled and dropped a five-year-old boy to his death. I was one of what Sudhir Venkatesh calls 'the journalists and other outsiders who came by hunting up stories

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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.

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, he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of the next decade inside the projects under JT's protection, documenting what he saw there.

Over the next seven years, Venkatesh 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. Gang Leader for a Day is an inside view into the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone.

It is also the story of a complicated friendship between two young and ambitious men, a universe apart. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read.

Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. When Venkate 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.

Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published January 10th by Penguin Press first published More Details Original Title. Chicago, Illinois United States.

Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Gang Leader for a Day , please sign up. How relevant could it be now? How relevant could it have been when it was first published, in It had been almost twenty years since he had first encountered the gang? I have read that one reason for a large amount of shootings in Chicago is because gang culture has changed.

It has been almost thirty years now. Did anybody vet him? Jay Mahannah It's as relevant today as it ever was. Look at community police relations and you will see why Black Lives Matter exists. These stories detail the dis …more It's as relevant today as it ever was. These stories detail the disconnect between parts of America where some trust government and some mistrust. If people want to understand each other instead of race-bashing, it starts with a willingness to understand. Sudhir's example of humility and JT's earnest desire to matter are relevant today.

See 2 questions about Gang Leader for a Day…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Dec 12, Petra-X rated it really liked it Shelves: popculture-anthropology , reviews , reviewed. 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 Sudhir Venkatesh had a problem when researching and writing this book.

Some of them were even involved in charity work within the projects they lived in. He especially liked the idea of being 'special' being as near as dammit actually in the gang, being accepted.

And maybe that is the key to joining gangs, all of his feelings, but the price is you have to participate in crime and violence, except if you are a sociologist. His get-out clause was that he was going to portray the individuals in a heroic light. And he did. It was a good book but lacked a lot of detail.

Although the personalities and their families were interesting, I wanted to get in closer, the broad brush strokes of description only whetted my interest for detail. I'd never actually met someone in a gang until a couple of years ago when I was in San Diego. My son and I got on a bus and it was full of people strap-hanging, apart from the rear seats which were almost empty. The whole rear of the bus was occupied by two obvious gang members in their rap-star clothes and bad-attitude glares.

They were lounging with their legs wide apart, taking up all the space, the two of them controlling the three big bench seats at the back. So we made our way past the standing people and sat down next to them. One of them got off shortly and I asked the other one where I should get off for the place I was seeking. He told me it was quite a way and not to get off at the stop the driver told me but the next one as it was closer.

My son and I looked at the scenery we were tourists and chatted and saw the man next to me writing in a notebook. A couple of stops later he ripped out the page from the book where he'd drawn a map for us of exactly where we would need to go and got off. So much for the fear the other people had of sitting next to these men.

I've never had anyone go that far helping me find my way before. What a nice man. It probably helps that people who wear low-slung pants, hoodies and various other gang symbols in the Caribbean are considered a bit immature, going in for style-and-fashion to an extreme, and no one pays them any mind.

So seeing a couple of big black guys all dressed up like that didn't push any buttons for me or my son. Just because someone lives in a place that is the subject of inflammatory documentaries, sensationalised videos and books that purport to be sociological testaments but actually seek to thrill and shock, doesn't mean the denizens of the ghetto are any less kind and thoughtful than anyone else.

Three and a half stars for an interesting book that I liked, upgraded to a 4. I also read a book about girl gangs, 8 Ball Chicks. View all 47 comments. Shelves: he-says , traditionally-published , non-fiction. 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 This author is a moron.

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 money from people and beat people who have not been paying him enough this is beyond being dumb — I can't believe anyone wouldn't see that coming!

Especially after interacting with the gang for about three years at this point! There are corrupt cops! I just am very thankful he didn't get killed or seriously injured, which could have happened easily at about a billion points in the book. I mean, he just has NO common sense. He doesn't even know, until years later, that there might be legal repercussions to the crimes he is a. There's also a lot of talk in the community, in real life - not in the book about him exploiting people in the course of making this book.

He gets to experience the thrill of being a gang member, then go home to his safe home in a safe neighborhood. He also, more importantly, goes on to enjoy fame, acclaim and riches from using these people's stories while they get shot, go to prison, or at best, stay below the poverty level.

I guess by the time U of C found out what he was doing, it was too late? Or too promising and exciting to demand that he stop? I don't know exactly what was going on there.


At home with the Black Kings

Venkatesh got rid of the clipboard and the questionnaire, but not his fascination with life in the Chicago housing projects. In a bit of bravado Mr. Much like a journalist, he observed, asked questions and drew conclusions as he accumulated raw data. He also learned to hide what he was doing from his academic advisers. Venkatesh, reared in the comfortable suburbs of Southern California by Indian parents, crossed the line from observer to participant on more than one occasion as he penetrated deeper into the life of the Black Kings and its local captain, the ruthless, charismatic J. When a rival gang sweeps by, guns blazing, he dodges bullets and helps drag a gang lieutenant to safety.


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For the next nine years, he routinely ignored that advice. A student of the social and economic conditions that shape the lives of the urban poor, Venkatesh chose not simply to immerse himself in the books, charts, and data that make up the usual intellectual diet of an advanced student of the social sciences. Instead, armed only with a notebook, his curiosity, and an innate indifference to peril that some would call brave and others might deem foolhardy, he immersed himself in the daily life of a nearby housing project, the Robert Taylor Homes. Venkatesh took the logical—but also unheard of—step of actually getting to know the people on whom he was trying to become an academic expert. The result was not only a remarkable Ph.


If You Want to Observe ’Em, Join ’Em

The publisher of Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day is trying to flog it by its association with Freakonomics Venkatesh contributed to Steven Levitt's bestseller , but 20 years from now, the order of precedence will have been reversed. Venkatesh has written a work whose intellectual depth and immense humanity have few parallels in social science. The story begins in the s when Venkatesh now a professor of sociology at Columbia University was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and was sent off into the South Side projects with questionnaires on race and poverty. He stumbled into the Robert Taylor Homes, a high-rise city where 90 per cent of the tenants were on welfare, and crack was king. He was put under house arrest by a crack-dealing gang, the Black Kings, whose leader, JT, let him go the next morning with some methodological advice: "You shouldn't go around asking them questions


Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day recounts the day-to-day life of the urban poor, in which Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociology graduate student, headed to Robert Taylor Homes. His nearly decade-long research yielded valuable data, revealing the corporation-like workings of the street level drug trade, and serving as the basis of this book. The book is written as a first person narrative and incorporates some of the stylistic traits of fiction. The narrative then moves back in time, as we learn how Sudhir came to study the residents of Robert Taylor Homes. After seeing the census figures for the surrounding area, Sudhir decided to take a questionnaire into a housing project run by The Black Kings, a Chicago street gang.

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