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The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld Paperback – July 1, 2008
30 of the World's Greatest Historical City Maps
A beautifully illustrated history of the world's most celebrated historical city maps, from the hubs of ancient civilization to sprawling modern mega-cities, created in association with the Smithsonian Institution. Learn more
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From Library Journal
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
—The New York Times
"One of the essential works of the city. . . . It owns a direct pipeline to the city's unconscious.”
—Luc Sante, author of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
“A univeral history of infamy, the history of the gangs of New York contains all the confusion and cruelty of the barbarian cosmologies.”
—Jorge Luis Borges
“One of the best American books of its kind. Mr. Asbury writes in a direct and engaging manner.”
—Edmund Pearson, The Saturday Review of Literature
Top Customer Reviews
Even so, no matter what anyone (including yours truly) says...and awful lot of people of all ages READ this book -- and love it. I was recently on a flight and sat next to a guy in his early 20s who sat there fascinated, reading it during the entire 3 hour flight.
Gangs of New York is NOT your typical book on which a movie is based. If it's bought by someone who loves the film somebody is going to be in for a monster surprise (or disappointment). Don't expect a plot, don't expect compelling writing, don't expect a large section on which the book is based and to easily find those sections. But do expect to be fascinated.
WHAT THIS IS: This is a book about: early brutal gang warfare, during a time in the 19th century where gangs literally swarmed all over New York City; blow-by-blow bloody battles and legendary gang fighters in a city virtually in the grip of gangs -- leading to the creation of the NY City Police department; and the politically dominating Tammany Hall machine's birth and growth in the 19th and 20th centuries, set within the context of a politically corrupt, violence-prone city.
Most interestingly, it's about a time in NYC's history that you seldom see portrayed in films or in books. I found the accounts of the 1863 Civil War draft riots absolutely gripping. But mostly it's about the gangs with names such as Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies etc (the film used these names too). Many illustrations are old-style drawings rather than photos.Read more ›
This is an easy-to-read and thoroughly enjoyable history book written in the colorful, "oral" style of writing found with authors such as Harold Lamb. The characters are memorable, and their names will stay with you forever. Personalities such as Hell-cat Maggie, Baboon Connelly, Googy Corcoran, Paul Kelly, Monk Eastman, and Owney Madden fill the ranks of the legendary New York Gangs; The Dead Rabbits, The Plug Uglies, The Whyos, The Five-Points Gang, The Eastmans, and the Hells Kitchen Gophers. Witness their rise and fall, but watch out for flying bricks and bullets!
The story of the gangster would not be complete without the police, for the story of the early rise and fall of the gangster is closely intertwined with the growing pains of the modern New York Police Department. Asbury illustrates the police relationship with the gangster, and highlights the police "riots" during the merger of the Municipal and Metropolitan police departments.Read more ›
Are we really to believe that the most famous of the Bowery Boys, Mose, was "eight feet tall" with hands "as large as the hams of a Virginia hog" and a hat that measured "more than two feet across", that "during the hot months he went about with a great fifty gallon keg of ale dangling from his belt in lieu of a canteen"? Or that Gallus Mag was over six feet tall and kept a jar full of alcohol-preserved ears she had bitten off of her victims (one of which she gave back in a later fit of admiration)?
Certainly, most of Asbury's book is based on fact. Indeed, his long description of the 1863 draft riots agrees with other accounts and, further, delves more into the actual reasons behind that torrid affair than do many other sources. Interestingly, in this section he relies less on purple prose than he does elsewhere. However, here, as in other chapters, sorting out what is fact, what is exaggeration, and what is plain fancy, is difficult.
In sum, this is interesting and entertaining reading (if a bit florid), but, without further research into other sources, readers shouldn't accept everything in this book as unimpeachable fact.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love this book. I could care less if it's historically accurate. The first half of Gangs of New York is one of the most fun reads you can have, if you're into that period of... Read morePublished 5 months ago by true review
This book could be subtitled, "One Damn Thing After Another". The breakneck speed of the narrative may have been thrilling in the 1920s, when the book was written, but... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Vanessa Prouty
This interesting book was the basis for the popular movie. As history it's very informal; readers will have to discern the line between fact, hearsay and fable. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Robert A. Hall