Anmiryam's Reviews > Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York

Low Life by Luc Sante
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Feb 02, 2012

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Read from January 28 to February 05, 2012

An interesting anecdotal look at the underbelly of New York City during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It succeeds in conveying the flavor of the squalor and the brutality of the city's past, but Sante's history falls victim to it's colorful details. The structure of the book, with each element of the underworld -- saloons, prostitution, gangs -- getting its own chapter, necessarily leads to a surfeit of repetition and disconnected repeat appearances by prominent players. List of names are followed by yet more names, all of which bear little to distinguish them from one another. I came away with a sense that Isaiah Rynder was an important figure in Manhattan's criminal life, but I cannot tell you when his power was at its height. This lack of cohesive story telling left me historically unmoored and overwhelmed.

I was also disappointed with Sante's lack of sociological perspective and refusal to provide perspective on the similarities parallel subcultures in other cities of the time and the developing societies of today that are troubled by poverty and its attendant crime. I came away with the sense that Sante believes New York to be unique, but he did nothing to convince me to share in that judgment.
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