LOW LIFE

LURES AND SNARES OF OLD NEW YORK

A guided tour through Manhattan's demimonde of the last century, conducted with exquisite relish by East Village journalist Sante (Esquire, The Village Voice, etc.), who speaks with all the authority of an eyewitness. Between the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, N.Y.C. grew from a minor port to an international metropolis. The cost of this development was immense: Real-estate speculation transformed whole tracts of open farmland into city blocks overnight; inadequate sewage and sanitation systems bred perennial epidemics; municipal government passed from the hands of patrician amateurs to those of ruthless demagogues; and the number of poor swelled far beyond the ability of the city to absorb and provide for them. Sante paints a portrait of extraordinary corruption and vitality, which entices almost to the degree it horrifies. ``This book can be seen as an attempt at a mythology of New York,'' he claims at the start, but it is a mythology of antiheroes in which no one comes off terribly well. We are presented, in four sections, with a look at the changing topography of the city (``Landscape''), the development of the various entertainments—in decreasing order of wholesomeness and legality—for which the city was famed (``Sporting Life''), the political and criminal forces that struggled to gain ascendancy during this period (``The Arm''), and—most hauntingly—the drifters, orphans, bohemians, and assorted lumpen masses who made up the ranks of the forgotten and despised (``The Invisible City''). The vignettes are priceless: the brothel managed by an ex- seminarian, complete with Bibles in every room and daily prayers at noon and midnight; the ``Doctor's Riot'' of 1788 (set off by rumors of grave-robbing in the medical schools), which ended in the massacre or forcible eviction of every physician in town. A rich delight. And for hapless New Yorkers who find themselves worn down by the present-day chaos of their city, Sante provides a strangely heartening reminder that nothing much has changed. (Nicely illustrated with rare photographs of the period- -some seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-19414-9

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

Did you like this book?

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

more