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Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York [Paperback]

by Luc Sante
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 24, 2003 0374528993 978-0374528997 1st
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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Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York + The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition + The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago: A History of Our Future
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In his first book, freelance writer Sante tours the underside of Manhattan's underclass circa 1840-1919. Clarifying his territory, he notes that "New York is incarnated by Manhattan (the other boroughs . . . are merely adjuncts)." Sante's bad old days are populated with lethal saloon keepers, thieves, whores, gamblers, pseudo-reformers, Tammany Hall politics, crooked cops et al. Capital of the night is the Bowery, center of the "sporting life"; bohemia encompasses the likes of short story writer O. Henry, a one-time embezzler from Texas, plus ethnic enclaves (with the Jewish and Slavic bohemians singled out as the most argumentative). East Side, West Side, semi-rural uptown, wide-open downtown, 19th-century Manhattan is presented as the realm of danger and pleasure. "The city was like this a century ago, and it remains so in the present," maintains an author who sees his Manhattan as seamy, seedy and sinister.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 460 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528997
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
People who think that New York City reached its low point in the 1970s (or the 1980s) as the Bronx burned and crime seemed to be on every streetcorner sometimes tend to idealize the past. Perhaps it was shaped from movies from the 20s and 30s that seemed to show a simpler NYC, or maybe it was just plain misguided nostalgia.
Sante does a fantastic job of recounting the dark underbelly of New York City in the 19th and early 20th century, going into gory details about the horrible poverty along the Bowery and Lower East Side (areas that have seen extensive gentrification since the late 1980s), the filthy streets and disease outbreaks among the city's immigrant masses, the proliferation of street gangs (some of whom were representing NYC police) and other, well, "low lifes." Sante gives an engaging, well-paced description of the oft-overlooked problems a booming industrial-age city like New York was going through and boldly goes where no historian has gone before.
Required reading if you are a NYC (or urban) history fan.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ride of your life. February 5, 2002
Format:Paperback
I have read this book four times in the last ten years or so. Once for research, the last three times for entertainment. Don't let "critics", who complain that Luc Sante's sources are questionable, prevent you from reading this book. Not every detail might be EXACTLY right; even when the comments are of doubtful origin, there's no doubt that they are valuable to students, first-timers and long-timers, to the subject of New York's history. This is not a scholarly textbook and it doesn't claim to be. Sante's style, and the illustrations that pepper the book, evoke the dark world of old New York. You'll find this book to be fascinating, provocative, and, in my case, inspirational. After I read this book, I began writing my novel called THE FIVE POINTS, which has recently been published. Thank you, Mr. Sante.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York City's 19th century underclass October 31, 2001
Format:Paperback
Luc Santé has written this wonderful book about the social history of New York City from the 1840s to WWI, with a particular emphasis on the very late 1800s. The author is interested in the 'low life' of the book's title, by which he means the working poor, the unemployed, and especially, the criminal element. Interwoven with this social history is a discussion of the physical environment of New York City (tenement architecture, the street grid, the elevated trains), as well as the literature of the era. The chapters, which are arranged by topic, include such things as tenement life, famous theatrical acts of the era, infamous saloons (the worst of which were merely fronts for mugging customers), the role of narcotics, gambling rackets, prostitution, the life of the typical policeman, and the first instance of neighborhood gentrification (Greenwich Village). Throughout it all, Santé enables the reader to imagine being there. The end result is a delight to read, giving the reader vivid insights into New York history that are overlooked in most history books.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opener October 23, 2004
By MsDandy
Format:Paperback
I am a life long resident of New York & I am ashamed that I had a scant knowledge of the city that I love. Low Life changed all that. Low Life proves that the history of New York is both lurid and fascinating. Since reading Low Life, I have read several more histories of the city but Luc Sante's remains by far and away my favorite.

My advice: if you want to truly understand New York, read this book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Beautifully written (nice font!) All the dates, names, places, figures and facts, you'll ever need on the history of the Lower East Side. Sante puts the social, ideological, economic, and cultural characteristics of 'low-life' New York in perspective with the rest of the nation. If you enjoyed DREAMLAND or THE ALIENIST, or TIME AND AGAIN, WINTER'S TALE, and even RAGTIME, read this book as a non-fiction compliment and source for all the books hitherto mentioned. Perhaps you'll enjoy Low Life more.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Reading November 29, 2001
Format:Paperback
Luc Sante's Low Life is fascinating and engrossing reading. It's the story of New York, told from the underside. Luc Sante has given us an excellently researched, excellently written work which explores the seedy side of New York, from about 1840 through 1920. He lets us see how much New York City has changed, yet how much it has stayed the same. The improvements to life in New York are remarkable, not so much for what they are, but for what they improved upon. There is an almost uplifting message from this book: New Yorkers can accomplish anything, can improve everything, can recover anytime. If you know New York at all, or have any kind of interest in the city, I believe you will find this an engrossing, entertaining work.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Far more than true crime. April 28, 2000
Format:Paperback
If you're looking for an appendix to The Alienist, Low Life would serve admirably. But in this book, Sante goes further than Carr and creates a vivid and fascinating -- and intellectually responsible -- piece of social history. The "low life" of the title isn't crime, or sex -- it's economic deprivation, which, Sante implies, has created the lurid conditions described therein. With a firm grasp of New York's abovegroud social history and a sense of bawdy fun, Sante creates in beautiful prose a portrait of the underground and reminds us how much the dispossessed and forgotten have contributed to our own daily lives as New Yorkers and as people. The graceful and inspring bibliographic essay is a nice bonus.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars For anyone interested in NYC history...
If you're interested in NYC history then I'd recommend this book to you. Not great writing but the topic is interesting and it gives a lot of interesting information. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Johnny 1955-2055
5.0 out of 5 stars The essential read on the topic.
Why has it taken me so long to discover Luc Sante?? Be prepared to be transported back to the origins of New York's seedy beginnings. Read more
Published 3 months ago by margaret ohanlon
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for the quintessential New Yorker
If you're from New York it puts the past and present in complete perspective..... very interesting read I couldn't put it down.
Published 5 months ago by Herman Estevez
5.0 out of 5 stars For fans of the seamier side of early NYC - get it!!
I will only say that as an amateur historian of early NYC - particularly
the underbelly of the 19th century, this book is the holy grail of modern
research into... Read more
Published 8 months ago by exec producer
5.0 out of 5 stars Gritty no-nonsense story telling
Luc Sante is a superb writer who paints a vivid, gritty picture of life in mid-1800s NYC. He is eloquent without sugar-coating the deplorable living conditions of everyday... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Melanie Luke
4.0 out of 5 stars Low life, Copper, gangs of New York
Good book in that it tied all of the above together. I loved seeing the actual places as thet were and how they are now.
Published 10 months ago by Marylapointe-hove
5.0 out of 5 stars READ IT!
One of the best books I have read on the culture--and sub-culture--of New York City. Entertaining, very insightful and informative. A classic of its kind.
Published 14 months ago by M. Burke Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opening, excellent read
Luc was brought in as a consultant on the Scorsese film "Gangs of New York", and you can certainly see why. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Daniel J. Henk
5.0 out of 5 stars Boys and Girls Together, Me and Mamie O'Rourke
This is a review of an informal history of New York's Lower East Side
covering the time from roughly 1840-1920. Read more
Published on July 25, 2010 by Tom Without Pity
5.0 out of 5 stars Changed My Life
As a New York City resident when this book was initially published, I read every word greedily. Then, when the Lower East Side Tenement Museum was in its infancy I visited, in... Read more
Published on March 21, 2010 by Darcy
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