Saturday, October 24, 2009

Five best books on New York City history

Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, named a five best list of books on the history of New York City for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on his list:
The Gangs of New York
by Herbert Asbury
Knopf, 1928

Herbert Asbury, a journalist in the 1920s, took upon himself the task of describing for New Yorkers of his era—the flappers and snazzy gents sucking cocktails—the much wilder life of the forebears on whose graves they gaily danced. His "informal history" of New York's seamy 19th-century underclass reads more like a collection of myths and legends. Chapter titles convey some of the flavor: "The Killing of Bill the Butcher," "The Police and Dead Rabbit Riots," "When New York Was Really Wicked." We meet a gaudy cast of disreputable characters, including Louie the Lump, Kid Twist and Madame Killer, in this bawdy, not terribly trustworthy but highly enjoyable portrait of the city and of a long-gone lower Manhattan neighborhood, Five Points. Movie director Martin Scorsese was understandably intoxicated by "The Gangs of New York" and in 2002 tried to capture on film what the city was like when its mean streets were made of cobblestones.
Read about the other four books on Shorto's list.

--Marshal Zeringue