Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York

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Luc Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent story of the city's slums and teeming streets, scenes of innumerable cons and crimes, whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape. Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; ...
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Overview

Luc Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent story of the city's slums and teeming streets, scenes of innumerable cons and crimes, whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape. Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two explores the era's opportunities for vice and entertainment -- theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling and prostitution; Part Three investigates the forces of law and order, which did and didn't work to contain the illegalities; Part Four juxtaposes the city's periods of revolt and idealism against its everyday reality. Low Life provides an arresting and entertaining view of what New York was reaily like in its salad days. But it's more than simply a book about New York. It's one of the most provocative books about urban life ever written -- an evocation of the mythology of the quintessential modern metropolis that has much to say, not only about New York's past, but also about the present and future of all cities.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In his first book, freelance writer Sante tours the underside of Manhattan's underclass circa 1840-1919. Clarifying his territory, he notes that ``New York is incarnated by Manhattan (the other boroughs . . . are merely adjuncts).'' Sante's bad old days are populated with lethal saloon keepers, thieves, whores, gamblers, pseudo-reformers, Tammany Hall politics, crooked cops et al. Capital of the night is the Bowery, center of the ``sporting life''; bohemia encompasses the likes of short story writer O. Henry, a one-time embezzler from Texas, plus ethnic enclaves (with the Jewish and Slavic bohemians singled out as the most argumentative). East Side, West Side, semi-rural uptown, wide-open downtown, 19th-century Manhattan is presented as the realm of danger and pleasure. ``The city was like this a century ago, and it remains so in the present,'' maintains an author who sees his Manhattan as seamy, seedy and sinister. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The history of New York City (Manhattan Island) is rich and varied--a veritable gold mine for writers interested in exploring some of its darker passages. Sante, Lower East Side resident, became curious about the area's 19th-century tenement buildings and how their early inhabitants lived, traveled, and were entertained. The four sections of this fascinating and thought-provoking book cover the period 1840-1919, and are entitled ``The Landscape'' (streets and buildings); ``Sporting Life'' (theater, saloons, gambling, drugs, prostitution); ``The Arm'' (street gangs, police, and politics); and ``Invisible City'' (orphans, drifters, and ``Bohemians''). New York's dark side is rooted in its past. Areas such as the Bowery owe their unsavory reputations to their colonial beginnings, and the often tawdry ``pop culture'' of today began with Manhattan's 19th-century underclass. This book is as lively and vivid as its subject matter. Highly recommended.-- Howard E. Miller, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Missouri Lib., St. Louis
From the Publisher
"A cacophonous poem of democracy and greed, like the streets of New York themselves." —John Vernon, Los Angeles Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374194147
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/1/1991
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 414
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Luc Sante was born in Verviers, Belgium, and now lives in New York City. He is the author of Evidence, The Factory of Facts, and Walker Evans, and his work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and Harper's, among other publications. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.

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Table of Contents

Part 1. Landscape
I The Body 3
II Home 23
III Streets 46
Part 2. Sporting Life
I The Lights 71
II Saloon Culture 104
III Hop 141
IV Chance 152
V The Lost Sisterhood 177
Part 3. The Arm
I Gangland 197
II Coppers 236
III The Tiger 251
IV Sainthood 278
V Rubberneckers 289
Part 4. The Invisible City
I Orphans 305
II The Drift 313
III Bohemia 320
IV Carnival 339
V Night 357
Afterword 363
A Note on Sources 381
Notes 391
Index 403
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2003

    reread

    Once more I've read this amazing book, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It not only was an inspiration for my first novel, The Five Points, but served a research purpose for the sequel, The Five Points Concluded. Anyone with an interest in Manhattan's dark history should pick up Mr. Sante's great book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2001

    Haunted New York

    Critics quibble over the fact that Luc Sante's Low Life relies too much and too often on local legends, questionable sources, and sensationalism. The fact is that New York's shadowy history is legendary and sensational but the sources of these local legends are not in question. Gaslight-era New York City was a mostly dark world, filled with unspeakable horrors, at times. Crime, brutality, poverty, disease, and deception were all trademarks of New York's most vicious neighborhoods, from Paradise Square to Satan's Circus to Hell's Kitchen. And Luc Sante casts an unforgiving eye on this world which required no forgiveness. As with Dunlop's book, Gilded City, this book is not meant to be read as a scholarly text, and doesn't pretend to be one. But a reader who is new to the history of New York will learn a lot, and have a tremendous time reading it. This is a terrific book, one that I've gone out and bought for my fellow New Yorkers who complain that the city has gotten 'dangerous' or is 'dirty'. Maybe now they'll shut up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2000

    Simply the best book ever written about 19th Century NY

    Sante, has written a book that gives complete and in-depth coverage of what it was really like to live in my town a century ago. For me, the greatest significance of this book was how it utterly destroys the mith of a gentle 19th century New York. I see that as the greatest test of art or liturature - to present something that everybody believes that they are familiar with and to show us just how wrong we were. In other words this books shows us things that most of us have never seen before and describes it in visual and graphic terms. There are numerous parts of this book that could be turned into a movie or other books. I reccomend this book to anyone who loves reading about New York and anyone who thinks that they really know New York.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

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