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The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld (1928)

by Herbert Asbury

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1,5391611,782 (3.32)39
A New York Times Bestseller Looking at the lurid side of organized crime from the 1800's to Prohibition, this is a tour through a now unrecognizable city of abysmal poverty and habitual violence. Asbury presents the definitive work on this subject, an illumination of the gangs of old New York that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Gangs of Los Angeles by William Dunn (Hedgepeth)
  2. 01
    The Great Riots of New York: 1712-1873 by Joel Tyler Headley (baobab)
    baobab: The gangs of New York had a hand in most of the riots that Headley describes. In fact, Headley's book covers much of the same material as the first half of Asbury's book, the major difference being that Headley was writing a generation earlier.
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English (15)  Swedish (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Really needs an overall narrative or sociological argument/insight to tie everything together. As it is, a series of repetitive anecdotes with very few having the sort of interesting detail to make them stand out. ( )
  audient_void | Jan 6, 2024 |
I love to read about the squalid splendor of old New York, of the Five Points, the Bowery, of its sexology and night life. Alas and alack, those topics left their cards but didn't stay in this account of gangland during a century ending about 1925. Concentrations here include street fighting, assassins, and turf wars, topics which are tangential at best to my reading interests. Further descent came from a chapter mostly devoted to the tools and techniques one might need to enter a bank vault and two longish chapters narrating the 1863 draft riots, an event which the author admits has almost no nexus with the gangs, save that many of the participants were members of gangs. The author occasionally deploys a tongue-in-cheek whimsy to good effect, but overall his style is competent but plodding. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Apr 28, 2023 |
A very cool history of the Five Points area of old New York City. Reekingly communal, desperately poor, nasty, brutish and short. ( )
  FinallyJones | Nov 17, 2021 |
A raucous history of the early 19th century underbelly of New York City, replete with accounts of brutal gang warfare and Boss Tweed-era Tammany Hall political machination. Dime-novel storytelling, not actual history. A mostly riveting, edge-of-your-seat account of lowlife Americana: lots of whisky, fisticuffs, brick-throwing, and bullets from the corrupt NYPD. ( )
  wyclif | Sep 22, 2021 |
When reading a book written some time ago, it's important to remember that standards and tastes may have been different back then. Such is the case here. It's entirely possible (in this case, likely) that this book was considered eminently readable when it was published in 1927, but today's readers might find it somewhat more difficult.

Asbury presents us with a dizzying array of names of people (real names, pseudonyms, and nicknames) and places (modern and historical), barely pausing for breath, let alone meaningful distinction among them (I lost count of the number of gangsters described as "huge"). A map would have been nice, and a cast of characters even better.

Anecdotes are piled one on top of another, with little or no explanation as to why any of them are important or how any of them are connected. And each one is more sensationalistic than the last, making me wonder where Asbury got his information from. A bibliography is appended at the end of the book, but it's impossible to tell which stories he got from which sources (and, indeed, which came from "personal interviews" with criminals and police officers). So, as hard a time as I had just wading through the mass of details, I almost had an even harder time believing them. ( )
  mzonderm | May 8, 2011 |
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This book is not a sociological treatise, makes no pretense of offering solutions for the social, economic and criminological problems presente by the gangs.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (208)

1876 in organized crime

1880 in organized crime

Ah Hoon

Ah Ken

Al Rooney

Alexander S. Williams

Harry Hill (sportsman)

Harry Lazarus

Harry Vallon

Hell-Cat Maggie

Henry O'Brien (colonel)

Herbert Asbury

Mike Saulter

Monk Eastman

Morello crime family

Mott Street

Neighbors' Sons

New York City Police riot

A New York Times Bestseller Looking at the lurid side of organized crime from the 1800's to Prohibition, this is a tour through a now unrecognizable city of abysmal poverty and habitual violence. Asbury presents the definitive work on this subject, an illumination of the gangs of old New York that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia.

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Life in mid-19 century New York was tough, and violence and corruption were rife. Nowhere was tougher or more violent than the Bowery and the Five Points area. Two gangs, the Dead Rabbits and the Native Americans, were locked in a seemingly endless battle for supremacy. Amsterdam Vallon, son of the Rabbits' murdered leader, is seeking vengeance for his father's death at the hands of Bill 'The Butcher', head of the Native Americans who are in cahoots with a deeply corrupt Tammany Hall..."Gangs of New York" has long been a cult book.
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