Sudhir Venkatesh is professor of sociology and African American studies at Columbia University. His writings, stories, and documentaries have appeared in "The American Prospect," and on PBS and National Public Radio s "This American Life.""
In the late 1980s and 1990s, "rogue sociologist" Venkatesh infiltrated the world of tenant and gang life in Chicago's Robert Taylor Home projects. He found a complex system of compromises and subsistence that makes life (barely) manageable. Venkatesh excellently illustrates the resourcefulness of impoverished communities in contrast to a society that has virtually abandoned them. He also reveals the symbiotic relationship between the community and the gangs that helps sustain each. Reg Rogers reads with great emphasis and rhythm. His lilting, cadence and vocal characterization of tenants is enjoyable. Rogers's first-person narrative establishes a deep intimacy with the reader. Venkatesh reads the final chapter, but he lacks the subtly and nuance that Rogers projects throughout his reading. The insubstantial author interview on the last disc mostly covers material already discussed in the book. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 5, 2007). (Feb.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
""Gang Leader for a Day" is not another voyeuristic look into the
supposedly tawdry, disorganized life of the black poor. Venkatesh
entered the Chicago gang world at the height of the crack epidemic
and what he found was a tightly organized community, held together
by friendship and compassion as well as force. I couldn't stop
reading, and ended up loving this brave, reckless young scholar, as
well as the gang leader J.T., who has to be one of the greatest
characters ever to emerge from something that could be called
sociological research." -- Barbara Ehrenreich ""Gang Leader for a
Day" is an absolutely incredible book. Sudhir Venkatesh's memoir of
his years observing life in Chicago's inner city is a book unlike
any other I have read, equal parts comedy and tragedy. How is it
that a naove suburban kid ends up running a crack gang (if only for
a day) on his way to becoming one of the world's leading scholars?
You have to read it to find out, but heed this warning: don't pick
up the book unless you have a few hours to spare because I promise
you will not be able to put it down once you start." --Steven D.
Levitt, co-author, "Freakonomics" "This extraordinary book features
the fascinating research of a brilliant young sociologist. Sudhir
Venkatesh spent several years closely interacting with
crack-selling gang members and struggling poor residents in a large
and very dangerous public housing project in Chicago. His riveting
portrait of day-to-day life in this poor community, including the
challenges confronting parents in a drug-infested and violent
social environment, is disturbing. But, "Gang Leader for a Day" is
rich with original information and insights on poor families, drug
dealers and even the police. It will leave an indelible impression
on readers." ---William Julius Wilson, Harvard University Lewis P.
and Linda L. Geyser Professor "Whether you enjoy fiction, history,
or biography you'll be drawn to Venkatesh's gripping retelling of
his experiences in the Robert Taylor Homes. "Gang Leader for a Day"
poignantly reminds us that there continue to be separate and
unequal Americas that ultimately impact us all." --Congressman
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)