Five Points covers the history of the neighborhood by the same name, beginning in the 1820s and ending around 1900. Anbinder describes life there by focusing on many varying topics, dedicating a chapter each to living conditions, politics, and specific ethnic groups, for example. Five Points was primarily home to immigrants. The author highlights this fact as he analyzes its economic causes and effects and, more importantly, its creation of a location where cultures mixed, resulting in unique cultural innovations and often terrible violence.
Anbinder uses an abundance of facts to support his claims. Though this gives him credibility, I thought it was a bit overdone, as I saw many of the facts as unnecessary to understand the point he was making. I found some sections difficult to get through– particularly any focused on politics– and others absolutely fascinating– these seemed to be the ones dealing with culture. My favorite chapter was the one which described the Five Pointers’ “play”. This chapter was the only one that I can claim made me want to experience the subject for myself; I imagined myself watching the performance of the first tap dancer or running around with the Bowery B’hoys. I also enjoyed the final few chapters of the book, seeing how the once-notorious neighborhood came to be the way it is today, and in fact learning how it is today in the first place, as I can’t say I’ve ever been there.
Rating: 3 stars
I don’t usually read this genre of books, so I can’t make any recommendations myself based off this style or topic. However, Goodreads recommends for readers who enjoyed Five Points the following books: A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Mike Wallace.