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The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of…

The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (1933)

by Herbert Asbury

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234376,372 (3.78)7
The author of 'the Gangs of New York' turns his attention to the seedy underworld of San Francisco, from its gold-rush glories to its subterranean opium dens. Houses of ill-repute play host to shanghaied sailors and the Chinese tong wars rage around the city.



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Showing 4 of 4
This book, which originally came out in 1933, is a companion to Asbury's famous books on New York City, as well as his surveys of the underworlds of New Orleans and Chicago. This one, as the title indicates, is on San Francisco's legendary den of vice and ill-repute, the Barbary Coast (the origin of the name being one of the things discussed in the book). As with Asbury's other books, while the sourcing can be a bit thin (other than the cited newspapers), the writing is top-notch, and is the fun of the book. It would be better with some good maps, though. ( )
  EricCostello | Oct 11, 2019 |
Originally written in the 1930s, this book is interesting for someone who wants to know about the origins of San Francisco and the seedier side of the city. There is a lot of language and description that would be considered outmoded now and overall Asbury presents a relatively judgement-free account of some pretty bad behavior. You can read between the lines and what he describes in a fairly light tone will come across as more horrifying. the discovery of gold launched the city and created a world of crime and corruption. It was interesting to me to learn that San Francisco has always been what it is now- a city of fortune-seekers and those who would take advantage of the less fortunate. ( )
1 vote bostonbibliophile | Oct 22, 2016 |
This is a history of the worst elements in the beginnings of the city of San Francisco. The author had access to people who had lived through these events, as well as many articles and other resources. He covers the political underpinnings of the vice, along with the culture and moment in time which enabled the Barbary Coast to have its beginning, triumph and fall.

The author writes in a very readable manner, using a bit of humor to lighten the load of history. Published in 1933, he seemed to think that the worst of the crime and vice were over for San Francisco. I wonder what he would think now? ( )
1 vote MrsLee | Aug 29, 2015 |
(First Edition, Knopf) San Francisco began life as a quiet little mission in northern California. As soon as gold was discovered, a roaring, rough and tumble shanty town developed and from that a dangerous, violent city was born. First came the miners and then followed the criminal element set on fleecing them. Gangs, riots, vigilantes, conmen, prostitutes, corruption and all else flourished in San Francisco until the earthquake and fire destroyed much of the underworld. Amazing!
  PaulMysterioso | Oct 9, 2005 |
Showing 4 of 4
I knew San Francisco had a vice-filled past, but in Asbury's telling, that vice acquired an almost metaphysical status. Asbury provided San Francisco with a history so lurid and romantic it seemed to come from a different epoch -- a ruthless time, a time without prudence, when pleasure and fate were the only stars men steered by. Casting a strange, sulphurous light on streets and buildings, Asbury's history gave the whole town an uncanny second life.
added by Shortride | editSalon, Gary Kamiya (Dec 20, 2002)
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The history of the Barbary Coast properly begins with the gold rush to California in 1849.
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