Another 5-start review for Best Selling Author Joe Bruno’s “New York City’s Five Points: The Most Dangerous and Decadent Neighborhood Ever!”


The Rotten Core of the Big Apple September 24, 2014
By Silver Screen Videos
Format:Kindle Edition

For the better part of a century, from the early 1800s to the early 1900s, New York’s Five Points was one of the most poverty and crime ridden parts of the city and the entire United States. Most people today know it, if at all, as the setting for Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.” But Joe Bruno knows the area better than most people since it’s where he hails from and he’s taken the stories he grew up with, added to them the results of a lot of painstaking research, and has come up with a new book, “New York City’s Five Points,” which contains a number of entertaining stories about the area and its most infamous residents and events.

“Five Points” is organized into a series of short chapters, usually two to ten pages in length, each devoted to a particular person, group, or incident, and Bruno’s chapters, for the most part, are arranged in alphabetical order, so they skip around a lot. Readers looking for a comprehensive history of the area will be disappointed, but those looking for fascinating, colorful tales will love this book. Since Bruno is far better at telling colorful anecdotes than organizing a formal history text, his approach, even though it skips around a great deal, is actually fairly effective. In many cases, Bruno probably had little historical information available (some of his chapters deal with events from the 1820s and 30s), so a short chapter provided ample space to tell the story.

The stories are indeed fascinating, starting out with the Chinatown murder of a well known comic that is accomplished by lowering the assassins down the side of a building, in a story that resembles a classic locked room tale but is actually true. I also enjoyed the chapter on Chuck Connors (not the actor, but the unofficial “mayor” of Chinatown), who specialized in taking leading celebrities of the day such as Sir Thomas Lipton on tours of the area, complete with a trip to an “opium den” that was a complete hoax designed to give his upper class guests some cheap thrills. There’s even a far more bizarre story later in the book about a con artist who victimized bunches of people by claiming that the southern end of Manhattan was in danger of falling into the Hudson River due to all the tall buildings that had been built there and that he could “save” the area by cutting off part of it and rearranging the rest.

I should point out that Joe Bruno’s books are not written in conformance with any style book I’ve ever seen. There’s a good bit of colorful slang (boxers “duke it out mano a mano”), and he includes conversations between characters that may or may not have actually occurred. However, I’ve read several of Bruno’s other books and, in this one, he seems to have toned down the language a bit so that it supports his stories rather than distracts from them. Further, since the book is organized in a number of short chapters that read like the telling of a story, Bruno’s colorful language is not nearly as distracting as it might have been in a longer, more formal text on the same subject.

There is some repetition in “Five Points,” as certain events and characters are described in different manners in different chapters, but it’s fairly minimal. However, those who have read some of Bruno’s other books should be aware that some of the material has appeared in what seems to be substantially the same form in some of his earlier work. Nonetheless, there seemed to me to be a good bit of fresh material, including a bonus chapter that really hit close to home, as Bruno talks at length about his Italian-American uncle by marriage who actually was elected mayor of Chinatown in the 1920s and later went to Hollywood. Uncle Johnny’s story is as colorful as those of the considerably seamier characters Bruno discusses in the earlier part of his book.

There’s a lot of fascinating material in almost every chapter of “Five Points.” Further, because most of the stories in the book take place before the days of Prohibition and “big name” gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, they will be completely new and refreshing to many readers. After reading “Five Points,” readers will be well aware that organized crime in New York didn’t begin after World War I; it was well established and just as dangerous for a number of decades prior to the Great War. “Five Points” is a good complement to Bruno’s other books on crime in the Big Apple.


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