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Paperback The Gangs of New York : An Informal History of the Underworld Book

ISBN: 1560252758

ISBN13: 9781560252757

The Gangs of New York : An Informal History of the Underworld

(Book #1 in the The Gangs of New York Series)

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Book Overview

Asbury presents an illumination of the gangs of old New York that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia and its depiction in films like The Godfather. Published to coincide with the release of Martin Scorcese's film, Gangs of New York, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Photos & illustrations.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

Classic New York Crime History

This book does a great job detailing the early history of crime in New York City. It is the book upon which the Leonardo DiCaprio movie is based but the book far outshines the film. A must have for crime and new york history buffs.

Not merely a supplement to the film.

It would be obtuse to begin a review without acknowledging the fact that Martin Scorsese, one of America's finest directors, has recently completed and released a motion picture version of this book. 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 It is a brilliant historical document whose characters and events are so unbelievably fantastic, where it not for Asbury's mind-bending research and documentation, they would not be believed.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.'

Plug Ugly America

America was never so violent as it was in the decades that flanked the Civil War, and Asbury sketches the immigrants, gangsters, gamblers and river pirates that ruled the slums of Five Points with a deft, half-loving hand. I was especially surprised to learn how politics fueled the gangs' long reign, each party keeping its own thug army to riot and break ballot boxes on command. Today's problems with guns, race prejudice and political apathy look like an ice cream social next to Asbury's New York, which ran on the kind of offical gangsterism you associate most often with the Third World. No wonder Scorsese picked this up--it takes "Goodfellas" to the tenth power. At the same time, Asbury hints at the rigid codes of honor that governed gang life, another Scorese trademark. The book evokes a forgotten America where the line between criminal and respectable was less rigid. I can't say I'd want to live there, but while it was more lawless, Asbury also leaves you wondering if it was maybe, just maybe, a little more free. At the very least, it puts some of our own 21st-century angst into perspective. A fun, easy read.

Now I Can't Wait for the Movie to Come Out.

Among the many special things that make this book a real treasure is that it was written in the mid 1920's. Without knowing what the future would bring Asbury concludes that the age of the gangs is over. And, in a way he is correct. Of course he could not foresee the development of gangs in the second half of the twentieth century, but he does successfully describe the changes in demographics and size that took place during the nineteenth. The later truly amazed me in that during the period of about 1840 to 1870 the shear size of the gangs that terrorized Manhattan, and its environs, were enormous. Gangs numbering in the thousands in an area of less than half of Manhattan is quiet frightening. Their relationship to political machines such as Tammany Hall and the Know Nothings insulated them from the long arm of justice. Asbury also does a wonderful job of describing the rocky evolution of the New York City Police Department. Good or bad the heroics and sacrifice of the New York City Police during the 1863 Civil War Draft Riots should never be forgotten. I highly recommend this book. If you have experienced New York then you owe it to yourself to compare then and now.
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