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Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York…

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (1991)

by Luc Sante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7201320,796 (4.05)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 13 (next | show all)
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 |
This is a lively, informative, and fun look at the underside of downtown New York City from approximately 1840 to 1920, chock full of gangs, corrupt politicians and policemen, bars, drugs, prostitutes, theaters of varying degrees of nonrespectablility, graft, crime, cons, would-be reformers, and more. Sante combines detailed research, including many quotes from writers and songs of the period, with compassion for the lack of choices facing poor people and a feeling for the continuity between then and now. Both the people and the gangs had fabulous nicknames: one of my favorites was the Dead Rabbits gang, "dead" being slang for "best" and "rabbit' for "tough guy." On the other hand, we continue to use a lot of the slang that originated then: Sante cites blarney, kicking the bucket, pal, and swag, among others.

I find New York City history endlessly fascinating, and one of the things that most intrigued me about this book was that the author and I both lived on the old lower east side (renamed by the real estate business as the East Village and Alphabet City and now hopelessly gentrified, largely by the expansion of NYU) in the late 70s and the 80s, a time when change was beginning there. He explains that living there, among the old tenements, got him interested in the less well known history of the area.

Sante doesn't dwell of the "plus ça change" aspects of the stories he tells, and in fact he is so immersed in the details of the period they aren't obvious, and yet . . . we still have poor people, criminals, corruption, theater, bars, drugs, prostitutes, gangs and would-be reformers. The form may change, technology may intervene, but human nature and social realities are still with us.
9 vote rebeccanyc | Jul 21, 2011 |
Quite good. It moves very quickly and contains a completely astonishing amount of information that will change your view of NYC forever. In places it's just too much. ( )
1 vote alissamarie | Oct 25, 2009 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (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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