When Martin Scorsese released his epic film "The Gangs of New York," the old New York neighborhood of The Five Points was on everybody's tongues.

The star-studded movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson, along with Leonardo DiCaprio, is set in the multi-ethnic slum, and follows the gang wars between Irish and Italian immigrants.

That area now has its own history, on a grand scale, in "Five Points: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum" by Tyler Anbinder, an Associate Professor of History at George Washington University.

Despite its unwieldy title, this is a colorful and useful look at a neighborhood which captures the Melting Pot at its best and worst.

Easily one of the toughest spots in a tough city, Irish, black, Chinese, German and other Americans clashed, killed, worked and raised families here. Charles Dickens himself toured the area, and was aghast at the poverty he saw.

In 1855, well over half of Five Pointers were Irish, Anbinder notes, in one of many useful (if a little complicated) charts and graphs. As far back as the 1830s, when riots tore through the Points, there were cries from officials to "keep those damn Irishmen in order."

Anbinder confronts much of the myth that has swirled around the Points, at times even bringing specific streets and building into impressive focus. With excellent illustrations, Anbinder has produced a valuable, accessible work for any reader interested in urban or ethnic history. (

The Free Press / $30 / 512 pages)