There is a degree of discomfort associated with directing attention to the crime history works of Herbert Asbury. In our modern Information Age, Asbury would be well suited to the role of negative example.
April 2013 Contents
He related old underworld legends as they were presented in the sensationalized press, often refusing to challenge their truthfulness and sometimes sensationalizing them even further. While certainly not unknown today, these are unpardonable sins for the modern serious historian.
However, Asbury, who died fifty years ago, did not live to see this technological age, probably never imagined it. With the touch of a few keys on computers or “smart” devices, we now are able to access archives and databases around the world, to hunt down the tiniest facts and access a vast spectrum of interpretations on those facts. For Herbert Asbury, the raw material of history was contained in file drawers of yellowing newspaper clippings (the microfilming of document archives began in his lifetime). Still, even in his day, there were other resources, and he regularly was criticized for not verifying story details, for engaging in exaggeration and occasionally for committing outright errors.
Despite its weaknesses, Asbury’s work is deserving of our recognition for two major reasons. First, that work and its popularity helped to create and to define the field of true crime writing. Second, it served to entice many serious historians—those who read Asbury’s vivid accounts and needed to explore further—to enter the field. In that way, Asbury did advance the cause of factual underworld scholarship. For these reasons, it seems appropriate that we mark the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Asbury’s death with this issue’s lead feature. (Preview)
Also in this issue:
- Lennert van‘t Riet, David Critchley and Steve Turner conclude their Gunmen of the Castellammarese War series with Part 5, Salvatore “Sally Shields” Shillitani. (Preview)
- Bill Feather provides a Lucchese Family Membership Chart. (Preview)
- Edmond Valin exposes two Gambino Crime Family informants. (Preview)
- Richard Warner looks at the evolution of Mafia studies. (Preview)
- Thomas Hunt reviews Mafia Summit by Gil Reavill. (Preview)
- In the News. (Preview)
- 100 Years Ago. (Preview)
Issue has eighty pages, including cover.
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