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Low Life (1991)

by Lucy Sante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8851723,855 (4.02)34
Luc Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent, often murderous story of the city's slums; the teeming streets--scene of innumerable cons and crimes whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape. Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the actual topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two, the era's opportunities for vice and entertainment--theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling and prostitution; Part Three investigates the forces of law and order which did and didn't work to contain the illegalities; Part Four counterposes the city's tides of revolt and idealism against the city as it actually was. Low Life provides an arresting and entertaining view of what New York was actually like in its salad days. But it's more than simpy a book about New York. It's one of the most provocative books about urban life ever written--an evocation of the mythology of the quintessential modern metropplois, which has much to say not only about New York's past but about the present and future of all cities.… (more)
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» See also 34 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Can be considered a companion volume (a bit more sensational than analytical) to Tyler Anbinder's Five Points.
  Mark_Feltskog | Dec 23, 2023 |
I only read 100 pages because I had this book as ILL and it was due back. It is a compendium of old NYC stories of neighborhoods, crimes, rackets and all else. Generally 1840-1900, though it does go farther on sometimes. Entertaining and educational throughout. ( )
  apende | Jul 12, 2022 |
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. ( )
1 vote EricCostello | Oct 7, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (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
Lucy Santeprimary authorall editionscalculated
de Wilde, BarbaraCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Luc Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent, often murderous story of the city's slums; the teeming streets--scene of innumerable cons and crimes whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape. Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the actual topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two, the era's opportunities for vice and entertainment--theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling and prostitution; Part Three investigates the forces of law and order which did and didn't work to contain the illegalities; Part Four counterposes the city's tides of revolt and idealism against the city as it actually was. Low Life provides an arresting and entertaining view of what New York was actually like in its salad days. But it's more than simpy a book about New York. It's one of the most provocative books about urban life ever written--an evocation of the mythology of the quintessential modern metropplois, which has much to say not only about New York's past but about the present and future of all cities.

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