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The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld Paperback – February 27, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"For any true-crime collection." -- Library Journal, July 2003

About the Author

HERBERT ASBURY (1891-1963) is the author of The Gangs of New York and its sequel, When New York Was Really Wicked, The Gangs of Chicago, The French Quarter, The Barbary Coast, and Sucker's Progress, all available from Thunder's Mouth Press.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560254947
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560254942
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book stops at 1917 with the closing of Storyville, and was first published in 1938. If at all possible, buy a good original printing. The trade paperback now out has poor, small reproductions of the original illustrations. This is a wonderful, engaging, laugh-out-loud book to be read time and time again. However, it has some factual errors. Asbury implies that Storyville was in the French Quarter-it was not. He also repeats verbatim some "legends" that were invented long after the fact. If you want a correct history of Storyville, see Al Rose's book.
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Format: Paperback
I am so happy this book is being reprinted! I had a copy some years back and howled with laughter at the antics of some the the Quarter's historic gangs, crooks, and ne'er-do-wells. If you are planning your first trip to New Orlean's, this book is a must read, or if you just want to sit back and have a good time and be tickled by some truly amazing characters (like Bricktop) and their pecadillos, buy this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Herbert Asbury must have been the daring writer of his day, daring to approach topics such as the red light district of New Orleans and the flesh trade in books that have retained a cult following to this day. In somewhat florrid prose, he manages to present a fairly accurate history of the French Quarter, its denizens, and chatacters, includong voodoo queens and madams and the social climates that shaped it. It portrays the politics and characters, the scoundrals and the thiefs. The book is as much a part of the era in which it was written, although New Orleans is a bit removed from the social climes of the rest of the country. It is a facinating portrait of a n era and a place that is a delight to visit for a time.
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Format: Paperback
THE FRENCH QUARTER is a history of crime, vice, and general rascality in New Orleans from its founding in 1718 by the French to the abolition of the Storyville red-light district in 1917.
In fifteen chapters, author Herbert Asbury describes the disruptive roles played by keelboat ruffians, revolutionists, gamblers, duelists, prostitutes, corrupt cops and politicians, pirates, filibusters (soldiers of fortune), vigilantes, pickpockets, muggers, thugs, the Mafia, and voodoo practitioners in the lives of the otherwise law-abiding citizenry. Anyone reading Asbury's narrative might be led to believe that good folks were a miniscule minority.
THE FRENCH QUARTER suffers from being published almost seventy years ago. Aside from a number of old sketch reproductions, and several badly reproduced B&W photographs of bordello interiors and exteriors during the Storyville era, THE FRENCH QUARTER is sadly lacking in illustration. There's not even a map of the city from which to get one's bearings.
This work is wonderfully informative as far as it goes, perhaps occasionally more so than is needed to make the point that the city, especially in the mid-1800s, could be a noxious place. The narrative is sober and straightforward, only occasionally displaying dry humor. A couple examples from the text will suffice to give one a sense of the book's tone and the city's iniquity.
Regarding barrel-houses,the lowest form of drinking place: "The owner of one such establishment not only doped all of his liquor, but maintained his own staff of sneak thieves ... (who) worked on a percentage basis and took turns robbing the sodden wretches who were dragged from the barrel-house."
Regarding the streetwalkers of the Dauphine and Burgundy Street vice area after the Civil War:
" ...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love "The City", and particularly its French Quarter. NOLA's history is incredible in the annals of our Country's early development. Asbury does an excellent job of detailing its darker side of that history and truly, it is interesting. My main fault is that this book seemed a bit ponderous read and one that required quite a time to complete.

That said, his book seems well researched, factual and for a student of history, particularly the darker side of early New Orleans, well worth the considerable investment of time to learn of and understand it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing book, a reprint of a 1935 collection of New Orleans history, written when some of the 19th century characters were still alive, or alive in someone's memory. Probably the most accurate accounts of the real Voodoo Queens and Doctors. The unknown story of race relations in America's most integrated society. (Some surprises - overly brutal slavemasters incurring the wrath of white society and being hanged or run out of town). However, the book ranges far beyond the grounds of its title, relating the history of river traffic on the Mississippi, the unbridled lawlessness that we rarely read in school history. The stories of the American flibustiers (proper French term) who attempted to conquer Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama, long before the canal. The true story of Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans. The long period when unbridled criminality ruled the fast-growing swamp city - including the history of the first Sicilian mafia incursion on American soil (1840s). The methods by which prostitutes robbed their sometimes unwilling clients. The social experiment with legal prostitution that was Storyville. All in all a very entertaining read for anyone interested in the history of one of our most distinctive communities.
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