Sunday, May 8, 2011

sensationalized details

The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld by Herbert Asbury
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)
Genre: non-fiction
Challenge: 100 Book Challenge 2011, 2011 Page to Screen Reading Challenge
Review:  When reading a book written some time ago, it's important to remember that standards and tastes may have been different back then.  Such is the case here.  It's entirely possible (in this case, likely) that this book was considered eminently readable when it was published in 1927, but today's readers might find it somewhat more difficult.

Asbury presents us with a dizzying array of names of people (real names, pseudonyms, and nicknames) and places (modern and historical), barely pausing for breath, let alone meaningful distinction among them (I lost count of the number of gangsters described as "huge").  A map would have been nice, and a cast of characters even better.

Anecdotes are piled one on top of another, with little or no explanation as to why any of them are important or how any of them are connected.  And each one is more sensationalistic than the last, making me wonder where Asbury got his information from.  A bibliography is appended at the end of the book, but it's impossible to tell which stories he got from which sources (and, indeed, which came from "personal interviews" with criminals and police officers).  So, as hard a time as I had just wading through the mass of details, I almost had an even harder time believing them.

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