Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
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on July 10, 2001
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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on February 5, 2002
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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on October 31, 2001
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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on October 23, 2004
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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on October 30, 1999
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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on April 28, 2000
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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VINE VOICEon November 29, 2001
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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on July 2, 1998
I am knee-deep in research works on NYC in the Gilded Age and "Low Life" is by far the most entertaining, thorough and evocative book I've found. I've reread most chapters several times and I always come away impressed. If you enjoyed the fictional accounts of this time and place by Caleb Carr and EL Doctorow, treat yourself to "the real thing" and dig into Luc Sante's book. The only downside: you'll find yourself reading whole passages to friends, so be forewarned.
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on January 13, 2004
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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on September 10, 2004
As a resident of a santized, tamed New York, I find it hard to imagine the city that Luc Sante describes in "Low Life." Can't say I would prefer living in those crime-ridden and poverty-stricken days, but you can't help feeling a bit let down by the modern city reading about the colorful crooks and decadent nightspots of a hundred years ago. Sante has a real gift for making New York history readable and entertaining at the same time he conveys large chunks of valuable information. At times the sheer volume of names and incidents gets a bit tiring, but Sante's unique, world-weary voice will keep you reading past the rough spots. Highly recommended for anyone who liked "Gangs of New York" or who has a taste for truth stranger than fiction.
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