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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(197mm x 130mm x 26mm)
Arrow Books Ltd
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
Charles Dickens upset Americans in general, and New Yorkers in particular, when he wrote of Manhattan in the mid-19th century: 'All that is loathsome, drooping and decayed is here.' He compared it to the worst of London's slums. Yet it seems that Dickens was if anything being diplomatic, at least according to Herbert Asbury's view. The place wasn't so much loathsome as a hell on Earth - a pit of squalor infested by criminals who killed as casually as they swilled ale and Irish whiskey on Friday nights. Asbury's book, first published in 1927, has long been cult reading among aficionados of American criminal history and has now been reissued to complement the film of the same name, which is based on the book. This is crime at its most lurid, set against the social history of a city seething with unemployed immigrants desperate to make good at any cost. They lived in abysmal poverty and turned to violence that in many ways eclipsed that of the much better-known gangsters of the Al Capone era. Herbert Asbury was a journalist and prolific writer about the seamier side of American life, and his style is very much of its time - flowery prose with sentences that are sometimes breathlessly long and prone to exaggeration. For instance, are we really to believe that one bandit, Mose, stood eight feet tall and that in summer he went around with a 50-gallon keg of ale dangling from his belt? Or that a delightful lady known as Gallus Mag stood over six feet and kept a jar full of ears she had bitten off her victims? Asbury culled most of his character descriptions from lurid newspapers and magazines, but his essential facts about the gangs and their background were correct. This is an amazing story that has been neglected for too long. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Herbert Asbury
Herbert Asbury was born into a strictly Methodist family in Missouri in 1889. His pious background and his subsequent rejection of Methodism greatly influenced both his philosophy of life and his career as reporter and author. Indeed, many of his books deal with the darker, seamier side of American life. He is best know for his true crime books set in the 19th and early 20th century America. He died in 1963 of chronic lung problems, the legacy of a gas-attack in France during the first World War.