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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.

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6651214,427 (4.1)33



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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 |
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 12 (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)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Luc Santeprimary authorall editionscalculated
de Wilde, BarbaraCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374528993, Paperback)

There are very few classics in the field of pop culture--the academic stuff tends to be too dry and the fun stuff is too quickly dated. This book by Luc Sante is the exception--in fluid prose liberally sprinkled with astute metaphors, Sante tells the story of New York's Lower East Side, circa 1840-1920. The personal histories of criminals, prostitutes, losers, and swindlers bring to life the social and statistical history that the author has meticulously researched. Not limiting himself to the usual sources, Sante finds his history in old copies of Police Gazette as well as actual police, fire, and social service records. Above all, what really makes this book work is the writing, which brings to life a culture of the streets that continues to form a silent influence on our contemporary popular culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:35 -0400)

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