Low Life by Luc Sante

Low Life

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 diffe...

Details Low Life

TitleLow Life
Release DateNov 24th, 2003
PublisherFarrar, Straus and Giroux
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, New York, Mystery, Crime, North American Hi..., American History

Reviews Low Life

  • Kyle
    In order to fully appreciate this book, you need to understand the context in which it was written: Luc Sante – who lived in New York City for many years, from the early 70’s to the late 90’s – experienced the New York of legend: fires, crime, blackouts, junkies, empty lots, derelict buildings. But he was also able to see and explore the mostly untouched artifacts from the previous century – the remnants of barrooms and theatres and ten...
  • William2
    This is a fascinating tour of New York's Bowery which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a hotbed of gambling, prostitution, and nefarious cons working every conceivable angle on the city's unsuspecting and credulous. It is a breathtaking and enormously entertaining catalog of roguery, well written and researched, that left this reader filled with admiration. Highly recommended.
  • Sam
    This has really enlivened my experience in NYC. Highly anecdotal and well-researched account of the street gangs, urchins, gamblers, actors, criminals and small-time entrepreneurs of Old New York. You meet the cast of characters who used to move amongst these very streets. While Sante's view is unromantic, his stories show that pre-bureaucracy city allowed for moments of cultural thriving unseen today. Imagine audiences caring enough about theate...
  • Anmiryam
    An interesting anecdotal look at the underbelly of New York City during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It succeeds in conveying the flavor of the squalor and the brutality of the city's past, but Sante's history falls victim to it's colorful details. The structure of the book, with each element of the underworld -- saloons, prostitution, gangs -- getting its own chapter, necessarily leads to a surfeit of repetition and disconnected repea...
  • Dan
    I enjoyed this book thoroughly. The book is about New York in the years 1850-1920 from the perspective of the poor, the corrupt, the criminal, the slum dwellers, the theater goers, the rioters and the bohemians (among others). After a slow start in which he covers the physical characteristics of NY as it expanded from Danish village to a city of tenements, he begins to the tell the ridiculously unlawful history of a young NY growing into the huge...
  • Fallopia
    What? I haven't written a review of this masterpiece yet? Luc Sante's Low Life depicts a grimy and unpleasant New York City, one the city's reputation still draws on.Although I read this book over ten years ago—and went to a booksigning and have an autographed copy—vivid images of locations very close to where I live still beckon.The Five Points—now the location of New York City's civic center—is generally known by now to have been New Yo...
  • Caitlin
    I am a huge fan of historical writing, especially social history. I care about the broader political context that informs most history, but I also really want to know about the little things, too - what people ate, what they were wearing, what they did for fun, how they lived day-to-day. This book will give a sense of all of that (plus the politics) & more.Luc Sante was an advisor on the movie, The Gangs of New York, & if you keep the way that mo...
  • Jake
    Sante's "Low Life" is a direct descendant of Asbury's "Gangs of New York", and like its predecessor, it does a good job telling the story of New York's underbelly during the 19th and early 20th Century. Sante is better than Asbury in many ways– he extends his exploration far beyond crime, delving into subjects as diverse as gambling, geography, politics, drinking, theater, and immigration. But like Asbury, he can get a little listy, and sometim...
  • A
    Meh. This book is a lot of lists of names and places and snippets of song lyrics, and that's about it. Even the pictures are lame. Whole is definitely much less than the sum of the preposterously-overresearched and poorly-edited parts here. And whatever you do, do NOT read the pretentious and completely clueless Afterword added in 2003. Of course, if you want to really get a sense of this fascinating, too little known, yet very formative period i...
  • Annie
    Luc Sante tells the story of the rabble in New York City roughly between 1840 and 1920, and it is an unflinching tale replete with sex and violence and crooked politics. He revels in these factors almost as much as the supposedly disgusted upright citizens who visit the featured low haunts so as to properly admonish against them. However, his tract does not smack of hypocrisy as the others did. He revels in every aspect of the human drama that pl...
  • Dan Henk
    Luc was brought in as a consultant on the Scorsese film "Gangs of New York", and you can certainly see why. Eye opening and shocking, Luc does a far better job of conveying the horrible conditions immigrants suffered under than more famous works like "The Jungle". Unlike a string of preachy, "socialism is the magic answer to everything" early and middle century diatribes put as "period novels", Luc dishes out the heartless facts. He also happens ...
  • Gurldoggie
    An alternative history of New York as told by that city's losers - gamblers, whores, drug addicts and cops. Rich in wonderfully told episodes of forgotten lore - the Doctor's riot of 1788, the brothels created specifically for police - this book is an absolute treasure trove of the long forgotten angry, creative, chaotic and mad people who created New York City. If anything the wealth of detail can get TOO overwhelming at times, but the stories a...
  • David Ward
    Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux 1991)(974.71) is a fascinating account of New York City 1840-1913 in Manhattan. The book includes overviews of crime, gangs, politics, gambling, liquor and drug sales, and was the basis of the movie "The Gangs of New York." My personal favorite discovery is the title of a song sung in the bars about 1910: "Teach Our Baby That I'm Dead" (p. 137). My rating: 7/10, f...
  • Alicia
    Low Life is a history of New York City's underbelly - the gambling, corrupt cops, tenements, prostitutes, etc. While a wonderful premise for a book, the execution rarely rises above the level of a catalog. Each chapter is basically a list (Smelly Joe did X on Houston, rival gang leader did Y on Broadway), making for horribly tedious reading. The one chapter I did like was about the draft riots. If you're interested in New York history, I'd recomm...
  • Peter Zalmayev
    for NY-lovers out there - not to be missed
  • Kathleen
    "Night is forgotten and endlessly repeated; it is glorious and it sits next door to death."
  • Christopher
    "The night is the corridor of history, not the history of famous people or great events, but that of the marginal, the ignored, the suppressed, the unacknowledged; the history of vice, of error, of confusion, of fear, of want; the history of intoxication, of vainglory, of delusion, of dissipation, of delirium. It strips off the city's veneer of progress and modernity and civilization and reveals the wilderness. In New York City it is an accultura...
  • Carmen
    Sante states in the preface that "this is by no means a work of academic history." Bro, you could've fooled me. The sheer amount of historical information, colorful details, and primary sources packed into this book is at the scholarly level. This book is an absolute treasure trove for people interested in a historically accurate and interesting account of the lower classes, vice, and criminal underworld of 19th century New York.It's not perfect ...
  • Adam Glantz
    Watching New York's past being erased during the real estate speculation craze of the Reagan era, Luc Sante looks back to an earlier period further below the surface, and its seamier side very much in particular. There are a number of idiosyncrasies here...repetition, long lists of names, abstruse terms without definitions, an unhelpful lack of maps...but the result is a lot of fun, showing that the putatively dangerous New York of the 1970s had ...
  • Viridian5
    So much New York City history I didn't know, about its seedy side and a lot of it about the thousands of ways you could die in it. It's amazing anyone survived. Riots and fires and gang wars and doctored alcohol and race riots and robberies and tons of poor people warehoused in truly horrible buildings and conditions. People who thought the 1970s was a rough time in NYC have no idea. Also, so many very colorfully named people. My edition has an a...
  • Hilton King
    People of my generation are always down on transcends and millennials. But if we lived in the times described in this book we would have all been massacred. Great book. And if you don't think you'll like it, if you're from New York and in your late 40's early 50's at least read the afterward which describes the city in the time we were born into it.
  • Kirsten T
    Five stars as a fun and readable book (which is how this was written), but three or four stars as a history. Because it's divided topically the chronology is confusing, and the citations are minimal so this would be difficult to use as a source. Reading it inspired me to re-watch Gangs of New York, which is a terrible movie, and I really should dock it a star for that too but I won't.
  • Lance
    The language and detail in this book are the best of journalistic rigor and artistic virtuosity. Sante writes as if he were there and saw it all himself, lived through it, the dirt, the dark, the daring and darlings that made me see NYC for the first time as a gem, albeit dusty and faulty, of a city.
  • Jennifer
    Loved this book, makes me hungry for more about this era (1890-1920 New York). Makes me want to go walk these streets.
  • Erica
    A classic that retains its vivacity and fresh detail. Love this book for the light it sheds on 19th century Manhattan in all its seedy glory.
  • Lauren Albert
    A fascinating look at what many consider to be the "underbelly" of New York. Full of interesting stories.
  • Ethan Cramer-Flood
    So erudite and sophisticated it's something of a challenge to read. Luckily, it's worth the effort.
  • Tristan
    So much fun, breezy to read but with some depth as well.
  • Hannah
    For me, extremely heavy going and a bit of a chore to finish. It was interesting, and I’ll think about everything I read here when I’m next in the city with a renewed appreciation. But honestly I was glad to finish it - it took a lot of work to get through it.