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The Gangs of New York (The Gangs of New York #1)

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  2,446 ratings  ·  181 reviews
The Gangs of New York has long been hand-passed among its cult readership. It is a tour through a now unrecognizable city of abysmal poverty and habitual violence cobbled, as Luc Sante has written, "from legend, memory, police records, the self-aggrandizements of aging crooks, popular journalism, and solid historical research." Asbury presents the definitive work on this s ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 30th 2001 by Basic Books (first published 1927)
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Mark Russell
Like its sister book Gangs of Chicago, Gangs of New York is an anecdotal history of the New York underworld in the 19th century from its nascence in the 1820's and 30's up until the the end of Tammany Hall and the corruption that sustained gang life as a New York institution.

It's a history populated by colorful characters like Sadie the Goat, a female river pirate, so-called because of her signature move of lowering her head and butting her adversary in the chest; Monk Eastman, former pet store
Aug 22, 2011 Derek rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Derek by: Ryan Askey
So thoroughly does Herbert Asbury embellish his facts in The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld that things just end up becoming a muddled farce, particularly near the end of the book where the names (Blanky the Blank is the general setup for these) and the stories have piled up beyond all recognition.

It sounds more fun than it actually is: a 1920s journalist recounting New York's heady, violent days in absurd exaggeration and abandon. Prostitution, drug abuse, hyper violen
Just because this was for me doesn't mean it was for everyone. I just love reading about the vice and crime that characterizes the history of New York especially in the time period discussed in this non-fiction book. Starting at about 1829 and ending when the book was written in 1928, it chronicles the worst parts of town and its inhabitants; tough tough men women and children who did unspeakable things to survive. They were sometimes colorful and sometimes pathetic and their way of life is just ...more
This was a re-read. This was written in 1927. It may or may not be filled with exaggeration. Old New York was a rough place filled with all kind of criminal types. This is their story.

The story of people like Albert Hicks and Bill the Butcher. Women who would tear off your ear and stick it in a jar as a trophy. (Gallus Mag) and so many people with names like Lefty Louie and Gyp the Blood. People like Hoochy Coochy Mary and Louie the Lump. There are way too many great names to mention them all a
Joseph Bruno

The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, written in 1928, is a great read for those who love to read stories about crime and criminals that took place in New York City, dating back to the early 1800's. The book starts with the chapter entitled “The Cradle of the Gangs,” which was the Five Points Area in 1829. Roughly, the Five Points area was the territory bounded by Broadway, Canal Street, the Bowery and Park Row, which was formerly Chatham Street. Now this area is the home to the city prison
I learned about this book from Borges' short essay "Monk Eastman, purveyor of iniquities," and have been meaning to check it out for some time, but only when I stumbled across this edition -- which was published to coincide with the Scorsese film -- did I pick it up. The foreword to this edition, fittingly enough, is actually the Borges essay.
Asbury wrote several books collecting sensational crime stories (the others focus on Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco). This one, on New York, is th
As the title suggests, this book is about the gangs of New York. In particular, it's a collection of mostly short anecdotes, in rough chronological order running from the mid nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. This rogue's gallery is full of tales about the worst sort of scofflaws: murderers, pickpockets, pimps, ear-biters, and greedy politicians. These tales of violence and depravity are interesting to read, but since most of the figures appear for only a few pages at a tim ...more
VERY DETAILED look at the underworld of NYC from the 1850's to the 1920's, with a focus mainly on the Five Points & Bowery area. The political corruption of the Tammany Hall era contributed greatly to the growth & power of the gangs, leaving the police mostly powerless to bring justice to these downtrodden slums. The Civil War Draft Riots (the focus of the recent movie of the same name, I believe) are discussed on a day-by-day basis; small sketches of many of the colorful individuals of ...more
Chilly SavageMelon
The nonfiction text from which the screenplay came. Bill the Butcher, The Dead Rabbits and the Civil War draft riots are mentioned, but they really flushed out a story for the fictional film.
Wow, how horrid and seedy NYC was from the mid-19th century to the first World War! The tenements sound like absolute hell on earth. Apparently muggers and "gangsters" got a crack at anyone who wandered into their neighborhoods, and knew politicians would most likely bail them out. The reading might have bee
Jill Hutchinson
I'm not sure if I really like this book. It certainly provides a window on a unstable period of the great city when gangs ran rampant....and ran local politics as well. But it didn't have a flow of narrative; it felt almost disconnected and therefore, I couldn't concentrate on it. I put it down several times and would pick it up later but just couldn't stay with it for any length of time. However, there were sections of excellent detail and insight into the inner workings of the society and hier ...more
I think I love this book so much because its yet another bit of evidence that humans have always be sublimely f'd up and perverse, and criers of declining morality and vices of the twentieth century have no idea what they're talking about.

I also love it for it's great antique voice, that lets you know "THIS WAS WRITTEN LONG AGO". (Warning: antique voice means that antique casual racism is included as well, which honestly really isn't quite as delightful at ALL).

I also also love it for being bet
Muhammed Zidan
The basic creed of the gangster, and for that matter of any other type of criminal, is that whatever a man has is his only so long as he can keep it, and that the one who takes it away from him has not done anything wrong, but has merely demonstrated his smartness.
ben f
Interesting, but repetitive. There are only so many times an author can introduce you to the baddest dude in New York city before it all starts running together. It's basically just a list of all these crazy guys and what they were known for, but sprinkled in are some great stories about how crazy Manhattan was in the 1800's. It also provides a lot of great rebuttals to bring up to people who say today's society is less civilized than in times past. For pretty much all of the 1800's 75% of Manha ...more
J.D. Brayton Brayton
Exhaustively researched and impeccably documented; the island of Manhattan, it seems, was always a wild mix of rapscallions, thieves,bushwhackers, con-artists, prostitutes,corrupt politicians, cops who were simply hired thugs, and gangs controlled by politicos in order to force/deliver votes.
Good to see that not much has really changed.
While I was impressed by the amount of work this book took to write, I was personally driven cross-eyed after awhile with the endless parade of shnooks and murder
Katherine Rowland
When I first saw the cover of this book, I thought it would be talking about the organized crime of the 1920s and 1930s--I was astonished to be reading about gangs from as far back as the 1820s. Originally written in 1928, the book is written in a mishmash of retelling of legend, "shocker" paragraphs about gang brutality, and limited commentary about the administrative corruption and poverty that allowed and encouraged the growth of gangs.

I learned a few things from this book: for example, I ha
An odd book. Purporting to be the history of New York gangs in the1800s, it’s far too credulous to tales of giant men who carried dray horses through The Bowery. And as such what should be a gripping guide to a lost city, feels more like inconsequential gossip.

A mediocre book, which ultimately became a mediocre film.
Tom Gase
A good book with a lot of information, but I probably need to read this again somewhere down the line. I felt it read like more like a history book and there wasn't so much a main story throughout the book. I also want to read this slower next time with an old map of New York close to my side, or possibly while I'm visiting New York. If you think this book is like the movie, it's not. In fact the movie is VERY loosely based off the book. There was a Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis character) ...more
Mar 06, 2015 Trevor rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: kew, nf
When I saw the film, I never realised that it was based on a non-fiction account written in the 1920s (about, roughly, the 1800s-early 1900s). This book was so fascinating that it made me go out and learn a lot more about the history of New York in general, watching documentaries and reading supplementary material (and looking at maps, a lot). It wasn't even so much the gangs and gangsters, though they were fascinating, but the swirling chaotic evolving world of 19th century New York that was so ...more
Robert Jones
There isn't any narrative to this book - it's just a rough collection of anecdotes, loosely organized by chronology. The anecdotes are definitely interesting, but it was hard to enjoy a book packed full of them. I found myself reading until bored, putting it down for almost a week, and forcing myself to pick it back up. It's not bad, honestly, it just gets... well, tedious. I think part of the problem is just how detailed some of the colorful characters get. I'm not sure how, exactly, Asbury can ...more
This was a lot of wording to get through it was worth it.
C.A. Sanders
The gold standard. I wouldn't take Asbury's stories as pure truth, but they capture the feel of 19th Century New York. It's full of real-life characters that are so outlandish and unique, that no fiction can compare. I've read this book at least a half dozen times and I'm reading it again.

If you're expecting it to be like the movie, you're sadly mistaken. Not that this is a knock on Scorsese, but the two are only related in source, not narrative.

If you like TGoNY, check out "Low Life," by Luc Sa
I'll admit it: I saw the movie before I even heard about the book, and the picked up the book at a sale on a whim. But this is not the movie--as much as I loved it, this is better.

Clocking in at close to 400 pages, this is a scholarly treatise covering the history of New York gangs (you don't say?), written in 1928. I thought it was be dry, slow, hard to slog through, but it was the opposite. The author showed a sense of unexpected humor and understatement that added levity to what could otherw
So I read Gangs of New York a few weeks ago, but as I may have mentioned it was not very exciting and made me rather sleepy. Not that it was a BAD book exactly--it definitely had a lot of information in it that I didn't know--but though it may be informative it's not an easy read.

The first problem I had was the fact that the book was written in 1927, and the author takes for granted the reader's knowledge of events at the time. Although I know a certain amount about American history (probably mo
This is an "informal" history published in 1929 about the street gangs that thrived in New York City from the 1800's on. It is not a novel or historical fiction and the movie is only very loosely based on it. For example, the character of Bill the Butcher is in the book but I did not find anyone resembling the Leonardo DiCaprio character in it. Bill the Butcher was just lifted out of the book along with as some other fascinating bits and pieces like the Dead Rabbits gang and a work of fiction wa ...more
This isn't the history that I learned in high school and college, and it's certainly not the New York I have read about in the works of Edith Wharton or even F. Scott Fitzgerald. I picked up The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury at the library because I recognized it from the film title, thinking it was fiction. It is actually a graphic account of the development of crime in New York, progressing from less organized lawlessness in the Five Points and Bowery districts in the early 1800s to the ...more
Gangs of New York is a valuable chronicle of persons, places, and events from approximately 1850-1920 that may otherwise have been lost were it not for Asbury. Where else would it be possible to read about the likes of Monk Eastman, Big Jack Zelig, Kid Twist, and Louie the Lump? Characters such as these are part of the American story. Implicitly, Asbury's book touches on the difficulties of 19th century ethnic immigration to America. Young Italian, Jewish, Irish men living in extreme urban pover ...more
Dean Hamilton
My old U.S. history book from school (which unfortunately I no longer have) skipped right over the Draft Riots of New York in a sentence or two and touched only tangentially on the horrific poverty and crime endemic to certain areas of New York, and the influx of immigrants through the city. Chiefly what I recall from those days is the smell of chalk and erasers, furtive whispers, a long line of students listlessly propping their heads up on their chins as they listened to the teacher drone on a ...more
This is a book ostensibly set in the infamous Five Points neighborhood of 19th century New York, and there is a movie based on it (directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leo DiCaprio). The book was written in 1923 and is listed as non-fiction, but I suggest taking that with a grain of salt; Herbert Asbury was no historian, and while the book does cite many actual sites and the names of the gangs are more or less correct, Asbury was creative in his interpretations and took a great deal of poeti ...more
There have been a dearth of really good reads on my 'read' shelf this month. Unfortunately, while this one has its good points, they are outnumbered by the bad. What stands it in good stead is the fact that it serves as the only historical book of which I am aware which details nineteenth and early twentieth century gang culture in New York. It has a cast of interesting characters, from Gallus Mags, Dandy Johnny Dolan, Butcher Bill Poole and Hellcat Maggie, together with the characteristics by w ...more
M. Milner
A fascinating and wild look at the evolution of New York's seedier side. Starting with loose gangs of criminals operating on the edges of town, running through depths of poverty and corruption and finally ending up with political ties and a retreat into what we now call organized crime. There's a lot of crazy history here that seems like something you'd read about a failed state: massive corruption, riots in the street and wild shootouts in public. One that stands out is the Police Riots of 1857 ...more
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“The basic creed of the gangster, and for that matter of any other type of criminal, is that whatever a man has is his only so long as he can keep it, and that the one who takes it away from him has not done anything wrong, but has merely demonstrated his smartness.” 3 likes
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