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The Gangs Of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld [Paperback]

Herbert Asbury
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

2 Jan 2003
The Gangs of New York is a tour through a now unrecognisable city of abysmal poverty and habitual violence centred around the infamous slum of Five Points, with its rival Irish and American gangs. Cobbled from legend, memory, police records, the self-aggrandizements of aging crooks, popular journalism, and solid historical research, this is a powerful account of New York City's tumultuos past. Asbury presents the definitive work on this subject, an illumination of the gangs of old New York that ultimately gave rise to the modern Mafia and its depiction in cult films like The Godfather.

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The Gangs Of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld + Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Noto + Gangs of New York [DVD] [2003]
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (2 Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099436744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099436744
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Asbury was a realist and mid-Western moralist whose book is, as Gopnik notes, 'a kind of surrealist collage of the city's secret history'" (Robert McCrum Observer)

"Like one of the thugs he writes about, he really is an "extraordinary virtuoso in the art of mayhem"" (Financial Times)

Book Description

Asbury's violent, visceral novel was adapted by Martin Scorsese into the biggest film of 2002. Nominated for ten Oscars, winner of two BAFTAs and one Golden Globe, Gangs of New York had a hit cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day Lewis and Liam Neeson.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, ordered, and a bit shocking 17 Mar 2003
This book outlines in an ordered historical way, the history of gangs in New York. From the first settlers up until the early 20th century New York this book documents the sources of vice and violence that have plagued the city.
Written in a way that does not simply list facts, this book leads you through the extensive history of the city and its denizens. There are many people named along with their exploits, and the political chicanery that seemed to allow many of the gangs to persist.
This book was very hard to put down, once started !
I purchased this book in response to watching the film of the same name. This book clarifies many aspects of the film, and demonstrates many of the impossibilities that were built in to make a good film.
If you have watched the film, then you should certainly read this book !
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Violence in New York 28 Feb 2003
By R. Simpson VINE VOICE
Part of the appeal of The Gangs of New York is that journalist Herbert Asbury was writing in the late 1920s at a time when (as he saw it) the era of the gangsters was over. With hindsight the modern reader smirks at the thought of the great age of gangsterism that was just beginning, but the likes of Al Capone and the Warner Brothers anti-heroes were gangsters of a different cast from Asbury's protagonists. The Gangs of New York tells of huge neighbourhood armies which took to the field against each other (or the police or even the military) armed with staves and picks as often as firearms, bruisers rather than criminal masterminds. Though well organised, the book is inevitably disjointed, often turning the spotlight onto one gang for a page or two or simply focussing on one bloody struggle for leadership. However, the horrific tale of the Civil War Draft Riots is told very dramatically at decent length and the careers of some notable gangsters like Monk Eastman are well charted in some detail. The corruption of police and politicians is also a recurrent theme across the decades. In any case, Asbury's research is prodigious and his style racy and compelling, with more than a hint of admiration for some of his disreputable subjects. On the very last page of the last chapter, The Passing of the Gangster, Asbury recounts the killing of Little Augie in 1927 'while talking to his bodyguard Legs Diamond'. This reference to Diamond, and another to Owney Madden ('Owney the Killer') backing night-clubs in Harlem (the Cotton Club not named), moves the reader on to the new generation of gangsters.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whets the appetite for more 16 Dec 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A most thorough resume of the diverse criminal activity of lower Manhattan from the early 1800's until circa 1920. The author paints a fascinating but shocking picture of the utter filth, hardship and depravity that was the daily life of those unfortunate enough to have no other option but to live in this area.

Mr Asbury introduces us to many gruesome villains and Gangs with names such as The Plug Uglies and Dead Rabbits and to a wide range of murderous and heinous activities. A very interesting book best read in conjunction with a detailed street map of The Five Points area.

My interest has been aroused by the contents of this book and I intend to read other related matter and next time in New York visit the area.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gangs of New York chills to the bone... 9 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Gangs of New York is a frightening tale of brutality that is a stark parallel to our violent world today. What you'll read of is what came before the shocking world of the mafia (as depicted glamorously in The Godfather Trilogy). This is a seriously wonderful read; so incredulous that it must be part fiction- though I don't believe the publishers would put us under false pretenses. Violence is a common thing and it happens all around, but just imagine how there was no escape in the days where the police were not feared people and the law was mocked publically. Gangs of New York is truly fascinating stuff so get stuck in...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Penny dreadful 4 May 2012
By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I didn't like this book because, as it states in the introduction, it does not analyse or interpret but just chronicles the New York gangs during, mostly, the 19th century.

As a piece of reportage, or newspaper cut-and-pasting, this reprint from the 1927 original is perfectly adequate but it is mainly about what it says on the front-cover blurb: "Now a major film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio", for which it was used as a source.

In true New York style, I shall take this book to the thrift shop.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A chronicle of vice 27 Feb 2003
More of a historical account than a story, Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York, written in 1928 is truly a classic of record and documentation. Peppered with original illustrations and describing eloquently, the criminal culture, the colourful characters, the depraved surroundings and desperation of a period in American history that is often overlooked.
From the mid 1800's until the 1890's New York was a tribal melting pot of poverty stricken immigrants from the poorest parts of Europe, the homeless descendants from the days of slavery and destitute natives of the region. The only source of revenue and stable social structure that existed was with the infamous gangs and the corrupt officials, where only the strong or shrewd survived in the appalling conditions. I can only thank Scorsesee for helping to bring this book to our attention and look forward to discovering how he has transformed this vast amount of research material into a major motion screenplay. A compelling read for those with a passion for New York or the historical subject matter
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent read.
Published 1 month ago by D. E. Hemsley
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent gift.
This was bought with another in the series. Mam was so pleased with this. She said it's a really good read, about how gangs operated many moons ago.
Published 2 months ago by Sharon
5.0 out of 5 stars I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the film or is...
This book arrived very quickly and was in great condition, very pleased with this purchase and it's a great read.
Published 2 months ago by Paul M.
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic book of a classic area
I lived on Mulberry St for 10 years and this is the story of that area. Its half fantasy, half true - but all together a great read.
Published 9 months ago by TOBY B
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book
This book is very complete and I recommand it for anyone who wants to understand Scorcese's movie.
By reading it, you realise how the movie is actually true. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Planquette Charlotte
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and well-written
If you liked the Scorsese movie starring Di Caprio and Day Lewis and appreciate the uniqueness of New York, you will love this book
Published 16 months ago by Tomarchio Salvatore
4.0 out of 5 stars untold history
Read this with a map of New York (19thC) in one hand as there are frequent references to streets, avenues and districts that will mean little to the non New Yorker. Read more
Published 19 months ago by M. J. Smallcombe
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed history
A fascinating and intriguing history of the various gangs in New York over it's early history - and their internecine warfare! Read more
Published on 23 Nov 2011 by Corptaxman
3.0 out of 5 stars History lesson
It's a history book really and was written a long time ago too. A lot of work and research went into it and the author clearly knew every inch of the city like a native. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by Gargoyle
4.0 out of 5 stars Great "informal" History of crime in New York
As the title of the book explains this volume written in the 1920s covers the various outlaws and villians of new york from pre-civil war years to what was then the close living... Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2007 by Henry James
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