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Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum
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Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  597 ratings  ·  58 reviews
The very letters of the two words seem, as they are written, to redden with the blood-stains of unavenged crime. There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence take startling form and crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words." So wrote a reporter about Five Points, the most infamous neighborhood in nineteenth-century America, the place whe...more
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published September 4th 2001 by Free Press
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This is a must read for anyone who enjoyed the film "Gangs of New York." Unlike the book of the same name by Herbert Asbury, the author utilized statistics to debunk some of the hyperbole surrounding America's most notorious slum. There were even some fairly well to do merchants who chose to remain because they owned businesses there. However, it was still a level of misery few can imagine.

The neighborhood became a cesspool around the 1820s when tannery businesses congregated there. Rioting and...more
Joseph Bruno
I lived in New York City's Little Italy for 48 years. But before it was called Little Italy, it was called "The Five Points." This book captivated me with the details of how my neighborhood transformed from a den of iniquity, to what it was when I lived there, starting in 1953.

First, the Five Points was filled with Germans and Dutch. The potato famine induced the Irish to hightail it to America, and they settle in the Five Points. In 1855, the Five Points was 55% born-Irish and only 25% America...more
Interesting, although a bit dry at times. It does present a very thorough history of the neighborhood known as the most infamous slum in America for much of the 19th century, but the author gets bogged down in the details now and then.

(My personal interest in the book came from the fact I used to live 2 blocks away from the 5 Points intersection.)
Tom Darrow
This book covers the history of the Five Points neighborhood in the lower east side of Manhattan. It takes a topical approach to the area, discussing the early history of the area, where the immigrants came from, what they did for a living and for fun, how they lived, crime, politics, etc. The main focus is on the period of 1830-1880, when the slum was the most notorious and crowded. The author does give some coverage to Italian and Chinese immigrants who moved into the area in the late 1800s an...more
This book was big when The Gangs of New York movie came out. I picked it up because I am a sucker for 17th-19th NYC history for some reason. It is a fabulous read for a history nerd with a dark side like me.
Frank Stein

Despite the books extenuated subtitle (a sure-fire sign of a publisher aiming at a popular audience) the book meanders through a fair amount of the social history minutiae typical of such academic works. There are charts and graphs on the occupation of Five Points residents, on voting habits, on living patterns, and, of course, lots of unnecessary anecdotes.

But in its better moments the book provides a glimpse into the evolution of a neighborhood over 100 years of history. The move from a black...more
Kristi Thielen
Interesting look at one of New York City's most colorful neighborhoods through the 18th and 19th centuries. First the Irish, Germans and Polish Jews, then the Italians and finally the Chinese immigrant communities that came and gave way to each other are the focus of the book. (Although little mention is given to the Germans and Polish Jews.)

The Irish are especially notably for having been terribly mistreated when THEY were the newcomers -and from having not been sensitized by the experience: I...more
Sep 22, 2009 Russ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Irish or New York City history
I've always been interested in the history of 19th century European immigration, especially in New York City, and this book is one I've always wanted to read. There's something about the Five Points that attracts me. Perhaps it's the physical makeup of the famous intersection - a true crossroads from hell. Perhaps it's the fact that the most famous city in the United States once contained such an infamous place. Perhaps it's the fact that the Five Points is so changed from its former self. I thi...more
I wish I'd read this before/instead of The Gangs of New York as it's both a more accessible and broader work dealing with the history of the underworld of New York City from the 1830's to the 1900's.

Anbinder looks at the sociological reasons that the slums developed, as well as a mini-history lesson on the Irish Famine, as that calamity drove the development of the Five Points area, with immigrants from two parishes (Kerry and Sligo) providing the bulk of the immigrants to the area. Despite the...more
Five Points was a New York slum made infamous by photojournalist Jacob Riis and his "How the Other Half Lives."

This history is dry, but I appreciated the author's even-handedness about the neighborhood. Tyler Anbinder managed to be neither nostalgic nor condemnatory, and I give him a lot of credit for that.

Five Points was a shifting immigrant community that began with the Irish, then moved to the Italians and the Chinese. It is hard to read this book today without thinking about today's immigrat...more
David Weiss
Very interesting book! Despite the amount of detail and cross-referencing necessary, I enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. Like someone else here said, it's written like a scholarly book and I'm fine with that. It challenged the factuality of some of the incidents and general history of the time that were depicted in Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" and described in several other books. I found it even more interesting, because the difficulty of life in the tenements and other horrible housing o...more
I always enjoy reading city history books and this one informing readers about the horrid living conditions in the Five Points region of New York City in the post-Civil War Era was a good reminder of what makes those kind of books riveting. Lots of good sidebar stories, well-documented chronology of life in New York City in the 19th century and solid biographical information on the important figures of the era add up to a good read. Perhaps a little more analysis of why this region was important...more
Jessica Kaufman
Finally done with this book! I read through most of the book fairly fast...then the last 100 or so pages really dragged on. Only for the fact that I had been busy and started other books. But what a well written book on the history of the five points. This author has included "characters"; actual life stories from people making this book seem sort of like fiction. As with any history book I read, I get that feeling or want..."I want to take a time machine to that era and point in history" t...more
May 16, 2013 Monica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Monica by: dad
Shelves: history
Though the politics were of a distant time and sometimes hard to follow I learned so much from this book it was a tremendous educational experience and I'd recommend it to everyone whether they're from New York or not. Abinder's research is impeccable and invaluable. Though I don't have specifics, The Gangs of New York has factual errors and the reader can rely on Anbinder's discerning viewpoints and insight.

spoiler alert

Two of the most eye-opening facts I learned are the fact that most Irish ho...more
Fascinating history of Five Points, the neighborhood that became Chinatown. Wonderful read for anyone interested in the history of New York City or immigration in the nineteenth century. Only drawback is the conclusions the author draws in final chapter--seem a bit disjointed from the rest of the chapters. Otherwise, wonderful read.
'Five Points' is a very comprehensive/detailed (somewhat scholarly), yet still very readable and enlightening, history of one of New York's most famous slums. It often reads as if it where written to be a (high school?) textbook. It's overriding moral/image/message seems to be: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I liked it enough, though, to seriously consider reading Tyler Anbinder's other book: 'Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's'.
Jill Hutchinson
I liked this book much better than "Gangs of New York". It provides an in-depth picture of that NYC neighborhood that teemed with immigrants, gangs, ward heelers, and grinding poverty. The politicians, using gangs such as the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys as enforcers,were unbelievably corrupt, ruled with an iron hand and kept the impoverished "in their place". This is an insightful look at the city in transition and is fascinating and yet,depressing.
Kristine Ashton Ashton
I love the way that Anbinder constructs this book. He introduces each section with a narrative and then delves deeper into the analytical context. An admirable way to write history.
Scholarly work that dispelled some myths I had acquired about Five Points from other monographs. Fascinating and sad look at daily life for New York immigrants from the antebellum era to the Gilded Age. Only part that dragged for me was on the political wranglings of the party system.
A New York Times Notable Book of 2002. It covers the same territory as Herbert Ashbury's Gangs of New York, only more scholarly, more contemporary, but less sensational and less immediate.

This book was pretty good, except for the chapters on politics, which were exceedingly dry. I also had some issues with the author's characterizations of racial/ethnic groups in some cases. Maybe this just means it wasn't always clear to me what came from his sources and what was his opinion. Anyway, one of the few really comprehensive studies of this fascinating place and period of time.
What I enjoyed most about this book was that besides giving a general history, it also singled out individuals to focus on, which brought a more human element to it. I liked the that each chapter had an interesting little prologue, something I haven't seen before. It was interesting reading about how the neighborhood turned over from one ethnicity to another over the years.
Bob Schnell
Five Points is a very good concise history (75 years in 400 pages)of a notorious New York City neighborhood. Each wave of immigrants and reformers, criminals and politicians, problems and solutions is given their due in a straight-forward fashion, perhaps too dry for some. A trip to the Tenement Museum in NYC is now in order to really bring that period to life.
Leif Erik
If you have a jones for East coast 19th century urban history this is the book for you! If you don't and the idea of reading detailed accounts of drunk Irishmen fixing elections and smashing windows is not your cup of tea, well, read it for the battles between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits. Gang names were cooler back in the day....
James Blatter
Small events trigger history's landslides. Living in 2600 sq. foot homes with heat and running water and immunizations and health care and neighborhood watch and PTAs and multiple cars and, well everything we often forget what life was once like, filthy, dirty and deadly. Great book as a window to the past and how it echos today.
Lady Jane
I am trying to figure out how to phrase this... because I found the history interesting, but the writing pedantic. Interesting facts and interesting people were drowned in a sea of information that lacked a cohesive story in this tome. A shame that the promise of the title was not to be found in the hundreds of pages that followed.
This book is a very thorough history of this area of New York. Informative, but it also read like a list in places. I'm happy to have the information it imparted despite this and I'm looking forward to my next visit to check out some of the locations written about now that I know what I do about them.
Christopher Intagliata
Oct 10, 2007 Christopher Intagliata rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: residents of New York
This, like Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel, is an essential read for residents of New York who want to have some idea of those who came before them. A fascinating shuffling of immigrants from Irish to Chinese to Italian. Also features a number of fascinating stories of Jacob Riis' childhood.
This exhaustive study of the famous neighborhood is one of the best studies I have read on urban slums of the 19th Century. The writing style is excellent in that for such an academic study is easy to read. Anbinder masterfully works in interesting facts and stories into his analysis.
Jodi Schoenbrun Carter
New York most notorious neighborhood is given a thorough history. Lots and lots of details that can sometimes be overwhelming, but I don't think there is any book that give a better understanding of the New York immigrant experience and the period that shaped so much of modern New York.
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Tyler Anbinder is an Associate Professor of History at George Washington University. His first book, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and the winner of the Avery Craven Prize of the Organization of American Historians. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
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