Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York

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Macmillan, Nov 24, 2003 - History - 432 pages
3 Reviews

Luc Sante's Low Life is a portrait of America's greatest city, the riotous and anarchic breeding ground of modernity. This is not the familiar saga of mansions, avenues, and robber barons, but the messy, turbulent, often murderous story of the city's slums; the teeming streets--scene of innumerable cons and crimes whose cramped and overcrowded housing is still a prominent feature of the cityscape.

Low Life voyages through Manhattan from four different directions. Part One examines the actual topography of Manhattan from 1840 to 1919; Part Two, the era's opportunities for vice and entertainment--theaters and saloons, opium and cocaine dens, gambling and prostitution; Part Three investigates the forces of law and order which did and didn't work to contain the illegalities; Part Four counterposes the city's tides of revolt and idealism against the city as it actually was.

Low Life provides an arresting and entertaining view of what New York was actually like in its salad days. But it's more than simpy a book about New York. It's one of the most provocative books about urban life ever written--an evocation of the mythology of the quintessential modern metropolis, which has much to say not only about New York's past but about the present and future of all cities.


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Low life: lures and snares of old New York

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The history of New York City (Manhattan Island) is rich and varied--a veritable gold mine for writers interested in exploring some of its darker passages. Sante, Lower East Side resident, became ... Read full review

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I read many books on the history and sociology of New York, but not one comparable to Luc Sante's Low Life. This amazingly well researched book uncovers more than historical facts - which it does, by the hundreds -, it sets a logical path through time for some of the most enduring myths and archetypes one associates with the city still today. Like an X-ray machine trained on the island from the sky, Sante reveals the skeleton of New York's body, showing how its various systems came together to form the beast we know today, scars, dysfunctions and all. An unendingly fascinating read.  


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Saloon Culture
ill Hop 141
Chance 152
Gangland 197
Coppers 236
Orphans 305
The Drift
in Bohemia 320
A Note on Sources 381

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About the author (2003)

Luc Sante was born in Verviers, Belgium, and now lives in New York City. He is the author of Evidence, The Factory of Facts, and Walker Evans, and his work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and Harper's, among other publications. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.

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