Paul Haspel's Reviews > The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld

The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury
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Herbert Asbury made a name for himself as a crime historian, recounting stories of the seedy underworld scenes of major American cities. Just as, in other books, Asbury describes the crime histories of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York (Martin Scorsese's 2002 film Gangs of New York is loosely based on one of Asbury's books), in The Barbary Coast he gleefully sets forth every sordid detail he can find regarding the history of crime in San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake. Among the most appalling details in the book: the cruelty that the Chinese community in San Francisco faced, virtually from the moment of their arrival in the City by the Bay. It is also disheartening, though not surprising, to read of how often city officials colluded in S.F. vice. Asbury originally wrote the book in 1933, and therefore some elements of the book are dated. Still an interesting read, though.

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