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Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York [Paperback]

Luc Sante
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov 2003
From opium dens to the Bowery's suicide saloons, this lively, learned work of outlaw urban history ushers readers through the dark heart of New York City in the years between 1840 and 1919. "A systematic, well-researched historical account of . . . corruption, vice, and miscellaneous mayhem . . . well-crafted and tightly written. Boston Globe. 63 photographs.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528997
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb in-depth look at old New York 3 Feb 1999
By A Customer
For anybody who has visited NYC in the present and is fascinated by this wonderful city, Sante's book gives a great background on the institutions and people and how they came together to shape its current structure. Get this before your next visit and you'll never have enough time to visit all the places mentioned, but you can always go back again with it, its an ideal size as a guidebook and there is something in it for everyone with an interest in NYC !
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I am knee-deep in research works on NYC in the Gilded Age and "Low Life" is by far the most entertaining, thorough and evocative book I've found. I've reread most chapters several times and I always come away impressed. If you enjoyed the fictional accounts of this time and place by Caleb Carr and EL Doctorow, treat yourself to "the real thing" and dig into Luc Sante's book. The only downside: you'll find yourself reading whole passages to friends, so be forewarned.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written & entertaining tale of the REAL "old New York" 10 July 2001
By Jeffrey Jotz - Published on
People who think that New York City reached its low point in the 1970s (or the 1980s) as the Bronx burned and crime seemed to be on every streetcorner sometimes tend to idealize the past. Perhaps it was shaped from movies from the 20s and 30s that seemed to show a simpler NYC, or maybe it was just plain misguided nostalgia.
Sante does a fantastic job of recounting the dark underbelly of New York City in the 19th and early 20th century, going into gory details about the horrible poverty along the Bowery and Lower East Side (areas that have seen extensive gentrification since the late 1980s), the filthy streets and disease outbreaks among the city's immigrant masses, the proliferation of street gangs (some of whom were representing NYC police) and other, well, "low lifes." Sante gives an engaging, well-paced description of the oft-overlooked problems a booming industrial-age city like New York was going through and boldly goes where no historian has gone before.
Required reading if you are a NYC (or urban) history fan.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ride of your life. 5 Feb 2002
By rocco dormarunno - Published on
I have read this book four times in the last ten years or so. Once for research, the last three times for entertainment. Don't let "critics", who complain that Luc Sante's sources are questionable, prevent you from reading this book. Not every detail might be EXACTLY right; even when the comments are of doubtful origin, there's no doubt that they are valuable to students, first-timers and long-timers, to the subject of New York's history. This is not a scholarly textbook and it doesn't claim to be. Sante's style, and the illustrations that pepper the book, evoke the dark world of old New York. You'll find this book to be fascinating, provocative, and, in my case, inspirational. After I read this book, I began writing my novel called THE FIVE POINTS, which has recently been published. Thank you, Mr. Sante.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New York City's 19th century underclass 1 Nov 2001
By saskatoonguy - Published on
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opener 24 Oct 2004
By MsDandy - Published on
I am a life long resident of New York & I am ashamed that I had a scant knowledge of the city that I love. Low Life changed all that. Low Life proves that the history of New York is both lurid and fascinating. Since reading Low Life, I have read several more histories of the city but Luc Sante's remains by far and away my favorite.

My advice: if you want to truly understand New York, read this book.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The closest thing to strolling down The Bowery 100 years ago 30 Oct 1999
By M. RICHTER - Published on
Beautifully written (nice font!) All the dates, names, places, figures and facts, you'll ever need on the history of the Lower East Side. Sante puts the social, ideological, economic, and cultural characteristics of 'low-life' New York in perspective with the rest of the nation. If you enjoyed DREAMLAND or THE ALIENIST, or TIME AND AGAIN, WINTER'S TALE, and even RAGTIME, read this book as a non-fiction compliment and source for all the books hitherto mentioned. Perhaps you'll enjoy Low Life more.
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