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The Gangs of New York

(The Gangs of New York #1)

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3.60  ·  Rating details ·  3,350 ratings  ·  252 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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Derek
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  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
...more
Mark Russell
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
True Crime Commemoration # 33
Setting: early nineteenth century Five Points NYC
Jenifer
Apr 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: new-york-city
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
Mel
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
...more
R K
Mar 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
DNF 50%

I just couldn't continue with this book. You'd think for a book about the history of gangs in NY, it would be really interesting, but it was so dull and dragging and there were so many commas. One moment you're in pre-civil war next your in the late 1800s and you're to keep guessing which ear you're in until the author bothers to tell you. Also the cycle of each chapter is the same. A little background on why a riot happened, followed by a way to in-depth account of the fight, followed by
...more
Lisa
Oct 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-a-z-list
This was a huge struggle to get through. Each page was the same as the next just listing different crimes and violent acts. It just blurred into one long, lethargic 'can't wait to get to the end' book. I was actually so glad to finish it which is a very bad sign. If I love a book I actually mourn it a little bit when I finish. But, this book was written in the late 1920's so it was going to be a challenge and I didn't particularly like the film either. I only picked it up to start my A-Z list go ...more
Joseph Bruno
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing

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
...more
Julie Mickens
Nov 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Not a true history but rather a historical artifact. A look at the 1830s-1900 through the eyes of the 1920s. Dark, fascinating, appalling.

I wish we could get closer to these people of mid-19thC NYC than a 1920s-based narrator. It was another world, one that was two or three generations more remote than the Riis photos and DeNiro's Godfather-as-a-young-man.

I personally found the earliest chapters most interesting for how truly distant and unfamiliar those times, the 1830s-50s, were.

In that str
...more
Ashley
I had seen the Movie when it came out in theaters and I was so so-so happy with it. It was a GREAT storyline, Great Characters, Great Historical points. But while browsing the local library I seen they had this for sale so for $.50 I picked it up with a few others. I was So happy with the Info, The History, The PEOPLE!!!!! To see the differences from the Gangs then to now is so krazzie. I know violence is a part of both but it was so different but the same. But old time "Gangsters" they were int ...more
Dean Hamilton
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Alex
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Grady Hendrix
Sep 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Research. Mostly lies cobbled together by the degenerate hack, Asbury, but the important thing is that they're interesting lies. And who isn't moved by the tale of Gallus Mag biting off the ear of her mortal enemy, the river pirate Sadie the Goat, and keeping it pickled in a jar behind the bar of her dive for decades before the two women became friends and Gallus fished out Sadie's ear and gave it back to her while crying on her shoulder and hugging her tight? BFF.
Julian
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Julian DeBitetto
Mr. Hart
English III
12/10/2018
Gangs of New York
The book Gangs of New York is about a man named Amsterdam Vallon and the story of his life. In the beginning of the movie he is a young boy in a scene that follows his father’s death after Bill Cutting stabs him while fighting over the five points which is the neighborhood he had lived in as a child. The neighborhood was notoriously known for its gang violence (gangs fighting to control the five points). After his father is
...more
James
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An engrossing historical chronicle about gang activity in New York starting in the early 1800s through to 1927. This book was published that same year, so it sits much closer to the events and feels more contemporary.

Gangs of New York is controversial. Although it's clearly the product of deep research, many of the tales are anecdotal. The information is densely packed, but varies from broad strokes to specific accounts of events or timelines. It devotes two very detailed chapters to the Draft
...more
Becky Loader
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Written in 1929, the book is enlightening about the condition of the City of New York in its developing years, and it is NOT about the wealthy families. I can't even imagine what living in the density of people in a constricted area would have been like. The Five Points drew the people who were used to a hard life, and they had it in New York just like they did back in Europe.

The author describes the colorful gangs, criminals, politicians, and others who populated the area from the 1840's on. Th
...more
Josh Balascak
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it
its ok, pretty detailed history. sometimes overly detailed.
William DuFour
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun but not totally accurate of that era.
Rosemarie
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-my-bookshelf
Wasn't an easy book to read, but it was chock-full of stories. Great source material for anyone creative enough to use it. And no, it's nothing like the Martin Scorsese film.
Mike
Nov 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
...more
Akiva
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Shek
Apr 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a long tradition in New York of looking back on bygone periods of mind-bogglingly dangerous violent crime with a sort of wistful, carefree nostalgia. (Oh, will no one bring back the heroin-soaked early 80's, when you could ride a broke-ass graffiti covered subway car to the East Village, step over half-a-dozen junkies on your way up the Bowery to see a real live punk band (!) and then get blackjacked by a mugger trying to stumble home at 1:30?)

This one's the grand-daddy of them all, free
...more
Mara
May 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, new-york
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,
...more
Tracey
Dec 19, 2007 rated it liked it
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 this 70- ...more
Chilly SavageMelon
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-thriller
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
...more
Nolan Collins
Jan 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book has its ups and it's downs but overall a book that I would recommend to one of my friends. This book grabbed my eyes because just the title itself could tell 1000 stories. This book tells the stories of 19th century gangs or crews in New York City. My favorite part about the book is when they tel you about secret gambling houses. Gambling houses were getting shut down so people were creating these very quiet places where people could gamble. There was many of them but at the same time ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
ben f
Feb 24, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jenni Link
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
This has lots of interesting facts and tidbits about underworld New York in the nineteenth (and a little bit of late eighteenth and early twentieth) century, but it's a litany of disconnected names, places, and events with very little exposition to provide unifying themes or conclusions other than that everyday life was squalorous and brutal, and the officials were as corrupt as the criminals. After a while the list of bad behaviors gets tedious.
F.R.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Herbert Asbury (September 1, 1889 – February 24, 1963) was an American journalist and writer best known for his books detailing crime during the 19th and early-20th centuries, such as Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld, The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld and The Gangs of New York.

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