If you are looking for something that is like the movie, the book Gangs of New York is not it, the book is nothing like the movie at all if you buy or read thinking it’s like the movie you will be a bit disappointed.
Gangs of New York is more like a history of New York but I loved this book, I loved the characters and loved the stories. It’s a great reference book for interesting people and places.
I would say that majority of it is fact with some myth mixed in, in its defense Gangs of New York was written by Herbert Asbury in 1928, 90 years ago and is about a history starting 100 years previous to that so going by today’s standards there would have been different research techniques and information available at time of writing. Gangs of New York starts back in the 1820’s with the first recorded gang of New York, The Forty Thieves right the way through to the 1910’s and the beginning of Prohibition.
I found some of the stories amusing, the characters were crazy at times, and it sounded like an extremely crazy violent time. The book does describe very well the social situation at various times throughout history and especially around the Five Points area of Lower Manhattan, New York.
You will find stories about the characters from the movie, Bill the Butcher, The Dead Rabbits, for instance the opening scenes of the movie most of the gangs from the book do get a mention when they two armies of gangs meet in the square. Some of the characters from the movie are composites of a few characters, Hell Cat Maggie, is a blend of three different women, Gallus Mag, Sadie The Goat Farrell and hell Cat Maggie. There are a lot references to the book in the movie.
The book doesnt solely focus on the gangs themselves, it tells the stories of individuals and places like saloons etc. It does talk a bit about the Civil War and other social issues too. Some parts of the book seem a bit stretched out over a couple of chapters and a bit repetitive at times too but if you like the stories and characters, sometimes in desperate circumstances. It leaves an impression of how harsh times they were with poverty and crime rampant.