"A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from vivid tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined." —The Economist
"A sensitive, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype." —Finanical Times
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.
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—is also published by Penguin Press.