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on 28 August 2017
I really enjoyed reading the book.
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on 7 June 2017
AMAZING! I would recommend this to anyone and everyone! It's easy to read whilst indulging into the depths of Chicago and the life for JT and everyone else! I've already bought another book by Venkatesh! Can't wait 😊
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on 12 May 2017
It is the best book I have read after in cold blood by Truman Capote. It is real, i don't
want to read fiction anymore.
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on 4 December 2015
Good delivery and product.
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on 16 September 2017
Great read
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on 7 June 2017
Great read
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 July 2008
Some time ago The Economist ran an article about the market for drugs, describing the sophisticated marketing strategies adopted by sellers - entry level products, loss leaders, special offers - in order to reel in the punters. Only at the end did the piece carry the reminder that oh, by the way, all of this is also illegal.

In a reversal of the process, Sudhir Venkatesh presents a largely jargon-free account of his ten-year sociological study of urban poverty, and particularly the attendant gang culture, in the projects of Chicago.

Moving to the city as a graduate student in 1989, Venkatesh wants quickly to make a name for himself and to that end walks unknowingly into the territory of the Black Kings (BKs) to ask the folks therein what it's like to be black and poor. Initially suspected of being a spy for a rival gang and incarcerated overnight on a urine-soaked stairwell by the BKs, Venkatesh soon becomes in quick succession a source of entertainment for, potential immortaliser of, and most unlikely confidant to gang leader JT.

JT himself is both compellingly charismatic and chillingly brutal in the disposition of his duties as a Director of the local BK enterprise. Venkatesh finds himself constantly conflicted by the activities he witnesses, fascinated by JT's leadership abilities and nauseated by some of his methods. On the pivotal Day for which Venkatesh becomes "Gang Leader" he is given an intimate view of JT's day as he resolves dilemmas many managers will recognise - agency problems, motivational issues, supplier relationships - sometimes in ways most of us as managers don't (often, at least!) resort to.

But this is about more than gangs. Venkatesh also details the complex social network that exists within the projects: the role the gangs play as enforcers in the absence of the police, the mutual support that exists particularly among the women, the operation of the informal economy, and the role of the various power brokers, official and self-appointed.

Sadly, the whole fragile structure unravels before our eyes as the authorities, in the name of progress, demolish the projects without the mitigation of providing an alternative for the powerless residents.

Through all this the author is both the key witness and also a vital participant: as with any research, it is impossible for him to have no impact on his subjects, and that impact is sometimes benign, sometimes detrimental. But there is little sense of excessive self-regard for his own role, and in fact he is quite open about his own inadequacies when confronted by the day-to-day challenges of project life.

All of this adds up to a compelling and sometimes disturbing peek into a life most of us will hopefully never have to experience. Venkatesh has done a good job of relating the tale, and at the end I found myself joining him in wringing hands with frustration that the world's most powerful economy has as yet shown neither the ability nor the will to eradicate the poverty that is all too prevalent within its own borders.
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on 8 May 2016
I give this American sociological ethnography, researched in the Chicago housing projects, my highest recommendation for other readers. Written by an Indian sociologist, born in India, raised as an immigrant in California, and transplanted to Chicago, the book is riveting and nearly impossible to put down at each reading.

Aside from learning all about life in the Projects and enjoying the story of getting to know the people in this book, I learned several important things which I never realized before.

This book showed me what life was like in every primitive society before the rule of law. One can either have a society where the Rule of Law is enforced, or one where the Law of Power is enforced.
Where we have the Rule of Law, everyone is subject to the rule, and laws and contracts are enforced. This protects the general public against HUMAN PREDATORS as THIEVES, as well as those engaged in "OUTLAW CAPITALISM."

What we have here in the Projects is a TRIBAL SOCOETY, where the leader (warlord) manages with a combination of POWER and CHARISMA. He takes a cut (like a 'federal' tax) off of EVERY activity that goes on in the complex, from selling candy, washing cars, prostitution, sub-lets, and of course, drug sales. There are smaller community leaders (smaller warlords, male and female) who also take cuts off a number of smaller activities (like 'local' taxes).

Reading this book helped me better understand the piracy in Somalia and why we are unlikely to see it eliminated in our lifetimes. Once a society has collapsed, it goes back to this warlord model. It takes a long time for a society to build out of that; such a society cannot easily be put back together. In fact, this model probably applies to more human societies, even today, than does the democratic model.

This book helped me to better understand government corruption in the developing world. A democratic model is trying to be imposed upon peoples who behave in a tribal and/or predatory manner with each other.

This is a model that the middle and upper classes in America are far enough removed from that they don't understand it. The whole model makes it difficult for people to get out of this life paradigm.

I especially learned that the MOST important business of government--more important than defense, or infrastructure--is REGULATION. Here we have everyone needing to be a "hustler" in order to survive. We have capitalism at it's most extreme and unregulated form. This book really showed me why it is important that capitalism continue to be regulated.

This book also had a lot to say about everyday micromanagement of the drug trade on the street level. It covered a different facet than many other books on the drug trade, which concentrate on the lives of the top bosses. I learned that selling drugs on a street corner is actually the drug industry's minimum-wage job, also undertaken for the maximum risk.

Anyone interested in these subjects should definitely read this book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 June 2008
Like many others, I found the chapter of Freakonomics based on Venkatesh's data on drug dealing to be the most compelling of the book. So I looked forward to picking up this extended account of his journey into the murky world of Chicago public housing and the research he did there from 1989-95. His entry into that world is a decidedly naive and somewhat accidental one, as he commences work toward his sociology PhD at the University of Chicago by assisting in a research project. This project requires him to go to several apartments in a public housing high-rise to administer a rather ridiculous questionnaire. Unfortunately, the resident drug gang suspects him of being a spy for a rival gang and holds him overnight until their boss can decide what to do with him.

Fortunately, the boss ends up taking a shine to Venkatesh and allows him to hang out around the gang and its slice of the Robert Taylor Homes housing project. This one decision (based at least partially on the gangster's belief that Venkatesh will use the material to write a biography of him), grants the student and budding scholar almost unprecedented access to the day-to-day functioning of a street gang, as well as a passport to the roam around the projects talking to the residents about their daily life. Venkatesh is very up front about his naivety, his discomfort with the role he was playing to gain the trust of people, the complexity of needing to befriend them in order to hear their stories, and the benefit his access to their stories has had on his academic career. In the end, he concludes that he is just as much a "hustler" as those he meets throughout his seven years, taking advantage of others as needed, in order to survive.

The focus of the book is on his interaction with the "Black Kings" gang, however, much of the material on their workings is interesting but not necessarily revelatory Basically, if you've seen season one of The Wire, you'll be more or less equally up to speed on the mechanics of drug slingin' street gangs. This is at least partially due to the rather edited view of operations the gang afforded him. What's more surprising in his account is the naked power over daily life in the projects wielded by the female middle-aged president of the tenants association, who comes across as just as venal and egocentric as the gang leader. Indeed, she and the gangster had an established rapport and arrangement, in which she could tap the gang for "donations" for community events, or to police the buildings, in exchange for not raising a fuss about their drug dealing. Venkatesh also spends a fair amount of time with the regular "citizens" of the projects, as well as a few community workers and one policeman. A striking absence from his fieldwork is any attempt to interact with the Chicago Housing Authority, under whose auspices the Robert Taylor Homes falls, and whose utter ineptitude and corruption pervades the entire book.

The cumulative effect is a rare look at the networks of power within a poor urban community, as well as a cautionary tale about the strengths and weaknesses of the ethnographic process. I found myself rather more drawn to his stories of the various licit and illicit hustles people run in order to make ends meet -- it turns out these are the focus of an earlier work of his called "Off the Books," which I'll probably end up reading at some point.

Note: As at least one other reviewer has noted, those interested in the "participatory observation" approach to studying gangs would be well-advised to check out Martin Sanchez-Jankowski's Islands in the Street, based on ten years of fieldwork among 37 gangs in New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Rather oddly, Venkatesh never refers to it.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2008
At the beginning of `Gang leader for a Day', Sudhir Venkatesh is an incredibly naive Sociology student with a great deal of curiosity. Becoming frustrated with the dryness of his chosen subject and wanting to focus on `people' rather than statistics, he heads into the Chicago projects with a backpack full of questionnaires to go through with gang members. With what we later learn, he was lucky he wasn't killed. Sudhir meets the charismatic gang leader, JT, who for whatever reason takes him under his wing and gives him privileged access to life in the projects and gang activity (he does appear to think that Sudhir is writing his biography which might be why he is so co-operative.) Sudhir goes on to mix with the gang and other people in the projects for several years, becoming a trusted sounding-board for many.

This was an absolutely incredible book. Not only do we meet interesting people and learn how they cope with such a brutal way of life; we also learn about the role of the researcher and the way they interact with the subjects of their research. There are times when Sudhir admits to being naive or when he feels uneasy that he has stept over a line and all this is included in the book. One of the most eye-opening things for me was the section about the writing group that Sudhir set up for young women. To hear some of the stories and what these women do to survive was incredible. I could be incredibly naive, but the chapter about the Police was pretty shocking too.

I thought this was a wonderful book. Recommended.
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