The best books about street gangs, how they develop and why they fall apart

Tim Pritchard Author Of Street Boys: 7 Kids. 1 Estate. No Way Out. The True Story of a Lost Childhood
By Tim Pritchard

Who am I?

I’m a filmmaker and writer who made a TV series about street gangs around the world with actor and presenter Ross Kemp. But it was one London street gang, the PDC, that particularly caught my attention. The newspaper reports were full of overblown headlines, terrifying statistics, and quotes from police forces. That’s when I decided to head down to the PDC’s “turf” in a small corner of south London because if you are going to try and tackle this crimewave it’s best to find out who is doing it and why. Right? I spoke to PDC gang members, their friends and families and the surprising truth behind the headlines is revealed in my book.

I wrote...

Street Boys: 7 Kids. 1 Estate. No Way Out. The True Story of a Lost Childhood

By Tim Pritchard,

Book cover of Street Boys: 7 Kids. 1 Estate. No Way Out. The True Story of a Lost Childhood

What is my book about?

It’s the story of 7 young boys who are members of a notorious and feared London street gang. To some, they are glamorous, gun-toting “gangstas” with a bling-bling lifestyle. To others, they are a group of criminalised thugs who pose a danger to society. This may turn you on or put you off. But stay with it. Things may not be what they seem. 

The books I picked & why

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A Brief History of Seven Killings

By Marlon James,

Book cover of A Brief History of Seven Killings

Why this book?

This book opened up a whole new universe for me, not just because its dazzling portrayal of Jamaican street life is so far removed from my own world but because the writing is so free and expressive. Its eye-opening use of Jamaican street slang and lack of traditional grammar makes this a thrilling read and taught me that even hard-to-decipher prose can be powerful and expressive as long as the voice is authentic.

Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

By Reymundo Sanchez,

Book cover of Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

Why this book?

What became apparent as I was writing my book was just how difficult it is for young kids to get away from a life of crime on the streets. Once a King, Always a King helped me understand the challenge – it’s not just that bad habits get absorbed into a personality from a young age, or that adults don’t help kids escape from their criminality. The social care and justice system actively collude in trapping young gang members in a cycle of violence, abuse, and poverty. 

Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Oliver Twist

Why this book?

As a young kid reading Dickens for the first time I was mesmerised by this journey into the underworld of Victorian London. I would go on my own imaginary adventures with the Artful Dodger and his gang of thieving street urchins. Years later, when writing my own book about modern street gang members I had the same sense of going on a thrilling journey of discovery and escapades.

True History of the Kelly Gang

By Peter Carey,

Book cover of True History of the Kelly Gang

Why this book?

Although this is a novel it’s based on the exploits of the historical Australian gang leader Ned Kelly. I loved how the use of vernacular and absence of traditional grammar make you feel that you are being talked to by a real hardcore gang member. It pulls you into the experience of what joining and being a member of a street gang must be like and helps you understand why, when family and society fail you, the life of an outlaw offers such a buzz.  

Gangs: A Journey into the Heart of the British Underworld

By Tony Thompson,

Book cover of Gangs: A Journey into the Heart of the British Underworld

Why this book?

I live in London, one of the most developed and “civilised” cities in the world but I’ve always been fascinated by what lies beneath its respectable surface and what currents are agitating it from below. This is a startling and eye-opening tour of the UK’s rich criminal underbelly and the surprising and surreptitious ways crime groups can cheat the system. It’s also a shocking insight into the lengths to which criminal gangs are prepared to go to avoid being caught. I’ve not been able to look at my home city in the same way ever since.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gangs, Illinois, and New York State?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gangs, Illinois, and New York State.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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