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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Gangs of New York: an Informal History of the Underworld

           Written by journalist Herbert Asbury, and originally published in 1928, this is a factual recounting of gang activity in New York City between the 1820s and the 1920s. New York has been and still is a city of immigrants; their ethnicities may change but the drive to survive and succeed always is there. The depths of squalor and prejudice endured by these individuals are astonishing, topped only by the violent acts they inflicted upon one another. All is described in graphic detail.

While we read about the gang members and their adventures, we also learn about the birth and development of the city police force, comprised of both honest and dishonest members. The history of that era’s political machine, Tammany Hall, is also explored.

The writing style is factual and intensely detailed, with the author’s prejudicial feelings towards certain ethnic groups put on view. Illustrations and photographs give the reader an appreciation of the times and places described. This book would be most enjoyed by history and crime buffs; it is dry reading for everyone else.

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