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

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

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307388988
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/01/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 161,828
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Herbert Asbury, an early 20th-century journalist, made a name for himself by documenting the gangs, pimps, prostitutes, and thieves that thrived in the underbellies of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans. His works, still in print after seventy-five years, are often hailed as the best snapshots of their time period. The Gangs of New York was the basis of Martin Scorcese's 2003 film.

Table of Contents


Foreword   Russell Shorto     xi
Introduction     xiii
The Cradle of the Gangs     1
Early Gangs of the Bowery and Five Points     19
Sin Along the Water Front     42
River Pirates     57
The Killing of Bill the Butcher     79
The Police and Dead Rabbit Riots     92
The Draft Riots     108
The Draft Riots (Continued)     135
When New York Was Really Wicked     158
The King of the Bank Robbers     185
The Whyos and Their Times     206
Kingdoms of the Gangs     228
The Prince of Gangsters     253
The Wars of the Tongs     277
The Last of the Gang Wars     302
The Passing of the Gangster     321
Slang of the Early Gangsters     349
Bibliography     355
Index     357

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The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Vercingetorix on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This gave me new insight into the underpinnings of my country. New York City was forged in amazingly dark and brutal beginnings.
IreneF on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Not worth reading if you are interested in history. Asbury was a journalist, not a historian.
ursula on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Tough going at times, a bit dry occasionally. However, it has some truly fascinating stories in it about the incredible rise of New York into a civilized city. It's amazing how brutal life was at the turn of the century with violence raging nearly nonstop in some areas.
JBD1 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Not overly scholarly or definitive, but an interesting read.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing 7 months ago
An enlightening look at the early history of New York City. The book bogs down in the categorizing of the gangs in the later years but still an eye-opening look at another time in the not so far away.
varielle on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I concluded I would have to read Gangs of New York after hearing that it had stuck with Martin Scorsese for forty years until he was able to make the movie of the same name. With that much staying power it did not disappoint. The endless gangs and characters become a blur, and the amount of crime staggers the imagination. I often thought the Cagney era gangster names and lingo were fantasies of Hollywood, but they were nothing compared to the reality. From the Plug Uglies to the Whyos to the Baxter Street Dudes the gangs constantly morphed with each new wave of immigration. Little Augie, Goo Goo Knox and the Turtle were just a few in this cast of millions. The story of any one of them could carry a movie or a book devoted to them alone. A compelling read, but be warned the level of violence that was the reality makes the movie of this world look mild.
mzonderm on LibraryThing 7 months ago
When reading a book written some time ago, it's important to remember that standards and tastes may have been different back then. Such is the case here. It's entirely possible (in this case, likely) that this book was considered eminently readable when it was published in 1927, but today's readers might find it somewhat more difficult.Asbury presents us with a dizzying array of names of people (real names, pseudonyms, and nicknames) and places (modern and historical), barely pausing for breath, let alone meaningful distinction among them (I lost count of the number of gangsters described as "huge"). A map would have been nice, and a cast of characters even better.Anecdotes are piled one on top of another, with little or no explanation as to why any of them are important or how any of them are connected. And each one is more sensationalistic than the last, making me wonder where Asbury got his information from. A bibliography is appended at the end of the book, but it's impossible to tell which stories he got from which sources (and, indeed, which came from "personal interviews" with criminals and police officers). So, as hard a time as I had just wading through the mass of details, I almost had an even harder time believing them.
Tyllwin on LibraryThing 8 months ago
History, though not scholarly history, he's telling (mostly) true stories, but it's stories and not footnoted historical material. Written eighty-some-odd years ago, the writing holds up surprising well, though from time to time a bit purple and incorrect for modern tastes.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The Gangs Of New York In the book The Gangs Of New York the setting takes place back 16 years before the civil war started in about 1863. As the title states the setting is in New York where the mob and corruption took a major part in everyday life. The book starts with Amsterdam Vallan who at a young age (about 16) see¿s his father, Priest Vallan killed in a street brawls between gangs. The man responsible for Vallans death, William Cutting who is known as ¿Bill the Butcher¿. Amsterdam is set for revenge for the man who killed his father. He comes up with an idea to get on Bill¿s good and trustworthy side and the plan works. But as he gathers the power he is starting to loose his thought of revenge as he is feeling some admiration for the butcher. Things continue to fall downhill and he himself becomes what his father was, taking the same spot he did as a gang leader. The major messages and themes in this book shows how people that had power back in those days could almost in a way rule the town if you will. By seeking so much revenge he had fallen into a trap by the butcher which also shows the power and corruptness. My likes on this book is that is an interesting book that involves action, suspense, good story line and makes the reader want to keep going. I honestly had no major dislikes in this book, as I mentioned before it had kept me going and I wanted to see what Amsterdam would do in ways of retaliation toward his father. By him falling in a trap gets the reader off as in the reader wouldn¿t expect that to happen so there are no major dislikes. I think people that are interested in good story lines, plots and like shows as in The Sopranos, The Godfather and other mafia movies. If people like calm, happy stories without violence or intense novels this is not the book to read. My overall rating is a 5 out of 5, books like these keep me entertained and wanting to know the ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Book is awesome...in depth detail of down town 19th century New York...it almost turns these criminals into legends, because thats exactly what they were in their time...The movie is much different than the book, ie how Bill the Butcher dies... but overall a must for anyone interested in NY history
Guest More than 1 year ago
Written in a prissy, nose in the air, dated prose, 'Gangs of NY' is a salacious account of NYC's Five Points neighborhood in bloody, gory detail. Clearly Scorsese's over the top film was inspired by this account, and both are sure to titillate. I found Anbinder's 'Five Points' a much better read on this subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a good read from start to finish. A must read for history buffs. It was suprising for me to see the media powers that are promote a book that admits the history of gangs in this country were started by young white men. You would think through media supression and stereo types that the last gangs of white men that existed were the greaser gangs of the 1950's. Some honest history was insightful, entertaining and refreshing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In section 2 of chapter one of this book it gives a reference to Bunker Hill as if it were in New York. 'The principle scene of this sport was Bunker Hill, about a hundred feet north of the present line of Grand street, near Mulberry, where the Americans erected a fort during the Revolution and defended it valiantly against the British troops under General Howe.' That is a direct quote from the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book! I loved it from start to finish. It really made me realize how much my high school history teachers left out, not to mention the textbooks. An eye-opening experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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 sweep. But also like "The Iliad" beware that these stories are terribly difficult to verify, and many border on myth. Having said that, I would still recommend this book to anyone wishing to get a sense of what 19th Century downtown NY was like. And I would also recommend it for the joyful flavor beneath Asbury's story-telling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good book. It tells the story of the gangs which infested New York from the early 1800's up until about 1925 when the book was originally published. The first half of the book though, deals exclusively with the Irish Gangs who started the gangster culture in America. Hurley's book (Irish Gangs And Stick-Fighting) is much more informative about the Irish gangs and their culture. Asbury was an outsider looking in, while Hurley's book contains stories written by an actual Gaelic Irish shillelagh fighter. I recommend this book but to really understand it, you need Irish Gangs And Stick-Fighting
Guest More than 1 year ago
How great it was to see this classic back in circulation! Asbury has a great knack for telling stories about this dark side of Manhattan's history! So what if some of it is based on lore and secondary sources? (It is an Informal Study, after all.) One gets the sense that even if some of these stories aren't entirely true, they aren't far off the mark! And Borges' introduction is superb!