A New Project — Re-Examining Asbury’s “Gangs of New York”

Although up to my neck in another research (for publication) project about the balloon-parachute act, I can’t resists making little research forays back into the world of nineteenth-century criminals. I’ve decided to go ahead with an idea I had a year or two ago: to deconstruct the anecdotes conveyed by Herbert Asbury in his classic 1928 book, Gangs of New York.

In one sense this is easy pickings: Asbury was a feature writer who took as his sources the works of other feature writers, and rarely verified details by using more direct documentation, like newspaper collections, interviews, legal documents, etc. In many instances he repeated bad information first printed by his sources; in other cases he went further and embellished that bad information.

That being said, this is a labor of love: I’ve been a fan of the book, and even like the the Scorsese movie, which applies Hollywood embellishment to further obscure the facts. Both Asbury and Scorsese had a clear affection for their subject, and brought forward some of the atmosphere that justifies the inclusion of the criminal underworld in the story of America.

The new blog can be found at:

Asbury’s Gangs of New York – Annotated

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