Gang Leader for a Day

Gang Leader for a Day

By Sudhir Venkatesh

  • Release Date: 2008-01-10
  • Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Score: 4.5
From 107 Ratings
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A New York Times Bestseller

Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of

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

Sudhir Venkatesh’s latest book Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy--a memoir of sociological investigation revealing the true face of America’s most diverse city--was published in September 2013 by Penguin Press


From the Trade Paperback edition.


  • Great book

    By SMP0426
    Such an interesting book and great writing. Very raw and honest. I've been in Chicago my whole life and love books about the city. This book does not disappoint.
  • Love this book

    By Uiccollegeprep student
    I originally chose to read this book due to an independent reading project. For the most part I hated the books that we were allowed to choose from, and I thought this book might not be too bad. It wasn't until I began reading it because the project was due that I got into the book. Being raised in Chicago and my mom being a paramedic I have heard of all these stories about how horrible the projects were. Also how the gangs interacted with people, but in a negative way. It wasn't until i started reading this book that i got to see things from the other side. Venkatesh goes into detail about how the projects were and operated, although they still were pretty nasty, and how the gang was seen as part of the community. While reading this book you cant help but feel like your apart of the story actually being there during the drive bys or with the gangs. For a Sociologist Venkatesh does a very good job in making everything very descriptive much like an english teacher reading to a group of young children. As you get farther in the book you also can't help but feel emotionally attached to J.T. like Venkatesh was. you get the real feelings of everybody. i definitely recommend this book.
  • Great Book!

    By Freon72
    I lived blocks from Sudhir was embedded with the gang and never had a clue about live in the projects. Robert Taylor was an area we avoided. He ran to it and delivered a great lesson.