Luc Santé has written this wonderful book about the social history of New York City from the 1840s to WWI, with a particular emphasis on the very late 1800s. The author is interested in the 'low life' of the book's title, by which he means the working poor, the unemployed, and especially, the criminal element. Interwoven with this social history is a discussion of the physical environment of New York City (tenement architecture, the street grid, the elevated trains), as well as the literature of the era. The chapters, which are arranged by topic, include such things as tenement life, famous theatrical acts of the era, infamous saloons (the worst of which were merely fronts for mugging customers), the role of narcotics, gambling rackets, prostitution, the life of the typical policeman, and the first instance of neighborhood gentrification (Greenwich Village). Throughout it all, Santé enables the reader to imagine being there. The end result is a delight to read, giving the reader vivid insights into New York history that are overlooked in most history books.