According to this book, youth gangs got worse after World War Two. The famous “white flight” to the new suburbs had left inner city neighborhoods derelict, and they filled up with migrants from Puerto Rico and the deep south. The Italians and Irish who were left behind were the ones that could not or would not leave. They were usually the dysfunctional families with an alcoholic parent.
The book could be better if there were more case studies included. The one about Salvatore Agron (The Capeman) isn’t enough. There were obviously others, but the author tends to concentrate on philosophy rather than narrative. I bet there are some retired cops and social workers who have a few good stories to use. First person accounts always add weight.
This is a well-written book, don’t get me wrong on that. But I would also recommend reading Down These Mean Streets and Bobby’s Book, or perhaps Manchild in the Promised Land. They’re autobiographies of street kids from the old days of New York, but they have different outcomes and backgrounds. Piri Thomas, author of Down These Mean Streets, was a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, born 1928, grew up in Harlem, left jail and stayed clean since. Bobby, the subject of Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang photos, was different. He was an Irish American kid from south Brooklyn, had parents who were alcoholics (and may have been born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and was on heroin for decades.
Regardless of race or color, life in New York City could be great or horrible. The bottom line is, no matter how great the book, you always need first-person accounts.