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Low Life


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About the Author

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.


In his first book, freelance writer Sante tours the underside of Manhattan's underclass circa 1840-1919. Clarifying his territory, he notes that ``New York is incarnated by Manhattan (the other boroughs . . . are merely adjuncts).'' Sante's bad old days are populated with lethal saloon keepers, thieves, whores, gamblers, pseudo-reformers, Tammany Hall politics, crooked cops et al. Capital of the night is the Bowery, center of the ``sporting life''; bohemia encompasses the likes of short story writer O. Henry, a one-time embezzler from Texas, plus ethnic enclaves (with the Jewish and Slavic bohemians singled out as the most argumentative). East Side, West Side, semi-rural uptown, wide-open downtown, 19th-century Manhattan is presented as the realm of danger and pleasure. ``The city was like this a century ago, and it remains so in the present,'' maintains an author who sees his Manhattan as seamy, seedy and sinister. (Sept.)

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 curious about the area's 19th-century tenement buildings and how their early inhabitants lived, traveled, and were entertained. The four sections of this fascinating and thought-provoking book cover the period 1840-1919, and are entitled ``The Landscape'' (streets and buildings); ``Sporting Life'' (theater, saloons, gambling, drugs, prostitution); ``The Arm'' (street gangs, police, and politics); and ``Invisible City'' (orphans, drifters, and ``Bohemians''). New York's dark side is rooted in its past. Areas such as the Bowery owe their unsavory reputations to their colonial beginnings, and the often tawdry ``pop culture'' of today began with Manhattan's 19th-century underclass. This book is as lively and vivid as its subject matter. Highly recommended.-- Howard E. Miller, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Missouri Lib., St. Louis

"A cacophonous poem of democracy and greed, like the streets of New York themselves." --John Vernon, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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