The Gangs Of New York: An Informal History Of the Underworld Paperback – Oct 30 2001
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From Library Journal
Journalist Asbury pulled this book together from several official sources, including police records as well as unofficial ones such as the rough memories of criminals. True to the title, the book is a history of crime both organized and not that permeated the dirty underbelly of New York City and its boroughs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these gangs were so vicious they would post signs warning police to stay out of their neighborhoods or else! The 1927 volume is the basis of Martin Scorsese's forthcoming film of the same name starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, so make sure to have at least one copy on hand. This edition contains numerous illustrations and a foreword by Jorge Luis Borges.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Asbury comes off as positively multicultural when you compare him with his peers and immediate predecessors . . ." -- -Judith Shulevitz, The New York Times Book Review
"Gangs is one of the essential works of the city, as deserving of a permanent place on the shelf . . ." -- -Luc Sante, The New York Review
"The rhetoric of the times, slang and colorful nicknames provide a poetic pleasure that helps offset the horrors . . ." -- Robert Flanagan, The Dispatch
Top Customer Reviews
Gangs like The Dead Rabbits, The Plug Uglies, The Gophers, The Daybreak Boys and The Bowery Bois ruling vast sweeps of New York turf like The Five Points, Hell's Kitchen and Satan's Circus...names to conjure with. Add into this setting a cast of characters such as Hell-Cat Maggie, Kid Twist, Gyp the Blood and the Paul Bunyonesque character of Mose the Bowery Boi, who even then was known to be a Tall Tale and not a real person, and you have the recipe for some interesting history.
However, the book is not all shock-value exploitation. While written with an eye for excitement, these are real stories of real people, complete with photographs of several prominent gangsters and magazine artwork from the time illustrating the manuscript. It tells you something of the creating of a city, and how structures are put into place and wildness is tamed. I was surprised to find out that The New York Times is older than the New York Police Department. A newspaper was a greater priority than either a police department or a fire department.
Anyone expecting an adaptation of the film, however, will be disappointed. Scorsese pulled characters from history and jumbled them altogether, regardless of the years separating their lives. It would be like a Western featuring Jessie James, Billie the Kid, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hitchcock, Bat Masterson and several others who were not alive at the same time. Also, this is a history book, so there is no story as such. Just the passage of time.
Being a lad of only 19, I don't know how seriously this review will be taken, but I will say this; Gangs of New York by Asbury is a downright entertaining book.
I can honestly say that reading this book was "fun", unlike some of the books they force you to read in school. If one has any interest about the history of the new york gangs, this is the book to read. The writing is mainly anecdotes, with occasional police records throughout.
Is it far from what the movie was though. It is a history book, and if one doesn't like reading history related material, this book is not for you. Still, I don't see how reading about people being brutally murdered and robbed and gang war in general could be boring, but oh well.
The book is 300 plus pages, but is easy to read, though not for the light-going reader. The exploits of the gangs told are very brutal, and downright inhumane, but that is what makes it interesting. Bill the Butcher, Monk Eastman, and various others from the movie are introduced in it, but in different contexts. Still, learning that they were real beings makes for an exciting read
Still, i can't say its the perfect book, and some of it is boring, but one can overlook that in the fact that, for the most part, the stories are kept short and the anecdotes are over-embellished which makes it a good read. It is no War and Peace, but its almost like a modern day thriller and probably better. Hope this has been helpful.
Herbert Asbury's book, however, is much more than a worthy companion to this film. It is a brilliant historical document whose characters and events are so unbelievably fantastic, where it not for Asbury's mind-bending research and documentation, they would not be believed.
His book is an easy read for those inexperienced with early 1900's rhetoric. Even young adults would take great pleasure in the 'smoking lounge' storytelling, though it may be to violent at times for younger teens.
It should be noted, however, that readers hoping to find a print version of Scorsese's film would be disappointed. 'Bill the Butcher,' a prominent character in the film, was in reality a small and relatively inconsequential part of New York's history.
History buffs, give this book a read. It will fascinate you and expose you to another side of America's most violent decade. For those who enjoyed this book, I recommend Asbury's other efforts as well as Cormac McCarthy's 'Blood Meridian.'
Most recent customer reviews
After seeing the movie I was intrigued to find this book, the supposed "true story" behind the movie. Getting the "truth" here, however, is very unlikely. Read morePublished on June 28 2004 by Traveler
A breezy, in-your-face tour into the bowels of the New York slums of the 19th and eary 20th century. Read morePublished on Sept. 15 2003 by Scott C. Gibson
This book accomplishes very little of what it sets out to do. An "informal history of the underworld" turns out to mean the book is a mostly dull, mostly anecdotal,... Read morePublished on Sept. 11 2003 by Nicholas S. Ludlum
All I need to say is that this book is immensely boring. It is like one, long column in a newspaper. It is not well written and it did not grab my continuous interest. Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2003 by wannabemoviecritic
As a contemporaneous take on nineteenth-century New York, this book is like an uncut gem found beneath an attic eave. Read morePublished on June 23 2003 by Carolyn Paetow
Re-reading Asbury's classic "Gangs of New York" was sort of like re-reading Homer's "Iliad" with its litany of battles and combatants, and because of its epic... Read morePublished on June 4 2003 by Rocco Dormarunno
This is a great book for those interested in the roots of New Yorks dark side. There is much more to this book than what was made into the recent movie with the same title and the... Read morePublished on Feb. 13 2003 by Anuro3
This book surprised me from the very beginning when I discovered it was written in the 1920s... (For some reason, I thought it was written a few years ago)
Having LOVED the... Read more
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