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The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld Paperback – October 9, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A classic chronicle . . . a violent exposition from which the infant city emerged full-grown and raging wild." -- Police & Security News, December 2002

About the Author

Herbert Asbury (1891–1963) was a prolific journalist and editor. His books include Carry Nation, All Around the Town, and The French Quarter. Thunder’s Mouth Press is also publishing The Gangs of Chicago and The Gangs of New York.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560254084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560254089
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 21, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also".
Such is the description of San Francisco's Barbary Coast cited from another publication by author Herbert Asbury.
THE BARBARY COAST, first published in 1933, is a history of that vicious and squalid section in the heart of the City by the Bay devoted to all forms of crime, vice, lewd conduct and wickedness for the period 1849 to 1917. Asbury's fascinating narrative includes the dance halls, music saloons, dives, brothels, and gambling dens that infested the area, as well as the criminal gangs, hoodlums and cutthroats that preyed on the men lured there. The book's scope also encompasses the rising population of Chinese residents that coalesced into Chinatown, as well as the yellow slavery, tong wars and virulent anti-Chinese sentiments that evolved concurrently. And, since San Francisco is one of the world's greatest natural ports, the author describes the perils to both arriving and departing sailors, who were drawn to the Barbary Coast as insects to Venus Flytraps.
The twin pillars of the Barbary Coast were robbery and prostitution. Despite the early successes of vigilantism in ridding the burgeoning metropolis of undesirables, the fact that both thrived for so long can be attributed to the toleration and blatant corruption of the city's law enforcement officials and governing politicos. Of the two, prostitution was the foundation of the area's iniquity since, as the author is careful to point out, the Barbary Coast didn't finally die until the California Legislature passed the Red-light Abatement Act of 1914. Therefore, it's no surprise that much of the volume is dedicated to the Oldest Profession: the cribs, cow-yards, parlor houses, pimps, madames, and debasing working conditions.
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Maybe this book is out of copyright or something... but this printing is a grossly lazy reproduction of the original printing. It's actually a copy of the pages - not even fit right to the book's size. They didn't bother to transcribe and properly typeset the text using a modern system, so you're basically paying for a very rough, poorly scaled photocopy of the old printing. No wonder it's not available on Kindle.
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San Francisco is an amazing city. Each time I visit I discover something new along its narrow alleys, panoramic vistas and historical landmarks. North Beach has always been my favorite SF neighborhood. It is amazing to me that such wickedness prevailed on these streets in the not so distant past. When I picked up the Barbary Coast, I was surprised that it was an older novel (first published in the 1930's). Don't let that persuade you from reading it. Asbury's frank and colorful descriptions of the old Barbary Coast will capture your imagination from the first page. Starting with the gold rush, Asbury describes the incredible influx of people onto the peninsula within a few short years and the lawlessness that followed. The stories of the prostitutes, gamblers, thieves, gangs, saloon keepers, brawlers, and corrupt politicians are all richly told in Asbury's colorful language that keeps the reader's attention all the way through. This book is a must for anyone interested in the history of the gold rush and San Francisco's past.
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Format: Paperback
The miners came in Forty-nine,
The whores in fifty-one;
And when they got together
They produced the native son.
This irreverend verse in the early part of THE BARBARY COAST sets the tempo of what is to follow: Joaquin Murieta, the Vigilantes, the Tong Wars in Chinatown, Shanghaiing sailors, the red-light district. I read it forty years ago originally and still recommend it, as do I the same author's THE FRENCH QUARTER.
This book is an informal history: as such it is sparse with the references, but it's a great read.
San Franciscans should be proud of it.
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By Darren Mckeeman on December 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
I'd seen this book on the shelves at the library, but I had always passed over it because it was too non-linear for my research. Boy, was that a mistake. This is THE best book about San Francisco's Barbary Coast in existance. It came to my attention again because of 'Gangs of New York', and I went ahead and bought it this time. Read this book and find out how tame everyone from San Francisco is these days in comparison.
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A very engaging and entertaining history of San Francisco's underworld from the "Gold Excitement" up to around 1906. It was written in the 30s, so a lot of the terms used in the book are no longer in use today and you may have to look them up. Also it continually references certain streets and does not contain a map, so if you aren't familiar with San Francisco, you will need to find your own map to see where they are.
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There was a time when San Francisco was called "the wickedest, most corrupt and godless city on the face of the Earth—even more wicked than Marseilles or Port Said." This classic study shows you why. Following up on The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, which Asbury had written five years earlier (still to come in his histories of city underworlds were French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld (1936) and Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (1940)), it traces the bawdier side of life in the City by the Bay from its roots when "the world rushed in" in 1849; around the early '50's a flood of ruffianly veterans of the frontier towns of Australia, joined by escaped convicts and ticket-of-leave men from New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, began to arrive, and the more enterprising spirits among them took over the flimsy frame and brick building of the old Chilean neighborhood and began opening lodging houses, dance halls, groggeries, and taverns there.Read more ›
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