Photo of McGurk’s Suicide Hall by niznoz used under a Creative Commons license.
Luc Sante, Low Life (Vintage, 1992).
A “lost history” of New York’s Lower East Side, from 1840 to 1920. Sante uses personal histories, police reports, popular press, fire records, long-defunct newspapers, and other sources to paint a picture of the city that was there before the twentieth-century, the city that peeks out from behind modern New York now and again. Sante has a particular sympathy for the seedy underside: overflowing tenements, poverty, gas-lit streets, street gangs, the waterfront, brothels, confidence men. This is a cultural history of the New York where people actually lived and worked and died, the city in the background of the official histories and covered over by chamber of commerce advertising.
Stephen Johnson interviewed Sante for The Believer. Billy Miller interviewed Sante in 1998 for Index Magazine. Here is Sante’s blog. In The New York Review of Books, Sante wrote about how New York changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an essay that is an afterword to the edition of Low Life published by FSG in 2003. Ken Meier has a long quotation from the book’s Preface. More from GothamGazette.com, John Hill, and JP Flanigan. Jess Hutch and Jeff used it as a guidebook.