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Low Life (1991)

by Luc Sante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7801521,031 (4.02)33
From opium dens to the Bowery's suicide saloons, this lively, learned work of outlaw urban history ushers readers through the dark heart of New York City in the years between 1840 and 1919. "A systematic, well-researched historical account of . . . corruption, vice, and miscellaneous mayhem . . . well-crafted and tightly written. Boston Globe. 63 photographs.… (more)
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» See also 33 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
There were a handful of interesting parts, but a lot of it turned into a laundry list of names. Once I decided to start skipping over parts that went too far down into details I started enjoying it a little more. ( )
  kapheine | Apr 6, 2021 |
It took me much longer than it should have to finish this book, because I was constantly putting it down to look up people on Wikipedia or to track down referenced books on Project Gutenberg or Archive.org. Or to look at locations on Google Maps to see what they look like now. Sante's book, published in 1992, may not seem quite as interesting now, since much of what he covered has been written about in other books or on various internet sites--but it remains a well-written, engaging look at the "low life" of New York City from Colonial times to World War I. The focus, more often than not, is on the Bowery and its memorable characters and crimes. At times, the parade of personalities gets to be a bit tedious and hard to keep track of. I think the book might have benefited from a more chronological order rather than thematic order--but this is a small quibble. Sante's treatment of his subjects and his sources is exemplary throughout. He presents everything, no matter how awful or peculiar, in an objective manner with only unobtrusive editorializing. After reading this book, you'll want to wander the backstreets of Lower Manhattan for hours on end. And you'll be happy you aren't doing it 125 years ago! ( )
  datrappert | May 3, 2020 |
A generally good book, with a handful of flaws. Sante, in this volume, gives an oversight of what New York City was like from roughly the 1830s to the end of World War I, going through various aspects of life. A lot of this is familiar territory (see below), but it is written very engagingly, and is a pleasure to read. There's also a very good selection of illustrations, something that many books in this field ignore. I think one of the major flaws of the book (and why I don't give it five stars) is that Sante does a miserable job of citing his sources. For example, there's material in the book that I know was taken from "Great Riots of New York," but that book isn't even cited. The bibliography is something of a joke, as well. It's also fairly clear that Sante is leaning heavily on Herbert Asbury's famous "Gangs of New York." A very good book, and a fun read, but by no means groundbreaking. ( )
  EricCostello | Oct 7, 2019 |
This is a fascinating tour of New York's Bowery which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a hotbed of gambling, prostitution, and nefarious cons working every conceivable angle on the city's unsuspecting and credulous. It is a breathtaking and enormously entertaining catalog of roguery, well written and researched, that left this reader filled with admiration. Highly recommended. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Pre-Haussmann Paris and turn-of-the-century New York have an energy in common. So much more to think about here, sometime... ( )
  amelish | Sep 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
And the compulsion to sensationalize undercuts Sante's civic passions; in place of desire and tragedy it serves up cartoon of urban "types." ... Sante sets out to deploy the term "lowlife" ironically with downtown chutzpah, but he ends up using it with the tone of an out-of-towner's jeer.
added by eromsted | editThe New Republic, Christine Stansell (Mar 2, 1992)
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Luc Santeprimary authorall editionscalculated
de Wilde, BarbaraCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From opium dens to the Bowery's suicide saloons, this lively, learned work of outlaw urban history ushers readers through the dark heart of New York City in the years between 1840 and 1919. "A systematic, well-researched historical account of . . . corruption, vice, and miscellaneous mayhem . . . well-crafted and tightly written. Boston Globe. 63 photographs.

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