Devil's Mile: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery

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The New York Times Book Review: Alexiou guides us through this checkered history with gusto.

Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd: Devil's Mile is a terrific read. Alice Sparberg Alexiou knows her history, and she brings it all brimming to life here in the story of the Bowery, the most notorious street in America.

A fascinating cultural history of New York City's Bowery, from the author of
The Flatiron.

The Bowery was a synonym for despair throughout most of the 20th century. The very name evoked visuals of drunken bums passed out on the sidewalk, and New Yorkers nicknamed it "Satan's Highway," "The Mile of Hell," and "The Street of Forgotten Men." For years the little businesses along the Bowery--stationers, dry goods sellers, jewelers, hatters--periodically asked the city to change the street's name. To have a Bowery address, they claimed, was hurting them; people did not want to venture there.

But when New York exploded into real estate frenzy in the 1990s, developers discovered the Bowery. They rushed in and began tearing down. Today, Whole Foods, hipster night spots, and expensive lofts have replaced the old flophouses and dive bars, and the bad old Bowery no longer exists.

In Devil's Mile, Alice Sparberg Alexiou tells the story of The Bowery, starting with its origins, when forests covered the surrounding area, and through the pre-Civil War years, when country estates of wealthy New Yorkers lined this thoroughfare. She then describes The Bowery's deterioration in stunning detail, starting in the post-bellum years. She ends her historical exploration of this famed street in the present, bearing witness as the old Bowery buildings, and the memories associated with them, are disappearing.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publish Date
July 24, 2018
6.4 X 1.0 X 9.4 inches | 1.05 pounds

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About the Author

ALICE SPARBERG ALEXIOU is the author of Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary and The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It. She is a contributing editor at Lilith magazine and she blogs for the Gotham Center. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has a Ph.D. in classics from Fordham University. She lives in New York.


"[A]n engaging cultural history of the Bowery...Ms. Alexiou's passion for her subject is palpable and admirable." --The Wall Street Journal

"A spirited survey of the Bowery's history that wages war with the boutique hotels." --The Bowery Boys

"A rigorously researched, very entertaining spin through New York City history." --Tablet

"Alexiou guides us through this checkered history with gusto." --The New York Times Book Review

"A delightful read, and a rollicking journey into the early days of Yiddish theater and Jewish life on the Bowery." --Jewish Book Council

"Alexiou's gem of a historical Baedeker is not just for everyone who cares about the Bowery but also for anyone interested in the play of change and continuity--of memory and history--that gives a city its soul. Hers is a tribute." --Commonweal Magazine

"As Alice Sparberg Alexiou's Devil's Mile shows, the [Bowery] has sheltered actors and prostitutes, punks and millionaires. Reinvention remains its only constant." --NY Daily News

"Walks readers through the cultural history of the Bowery--from creation to its vanishing remnants that remain today." --am New York

"Alice Sparberg Alexiou makes us miss the Bowery-- more than we ever knew we could." --The NY Journal of Books

"This anecdote-laden urban history of New York City's Bowery by Alexiou makes for addictive reading. The chapters on the city's tumultuous early days are top-rate urban history, yet Alexiou hits her stride in describing the 19th century, when the Bowery was 'America's center of sin.' Astutely written and smartly researched, this is a fascinating micro-take on New York's cycle of boom and bust." --Publisher's Weekly

"New York historian Alexiou enlivens the street's history with insightful portraits of the street's denizens. A very valuable addition to any urban-history collection." --Booklist (starred review)

"A lively portrait of New York's 'other street'...New York buffs, especially those nostalgic for a grittier time, will find this a learned pleasure." --Kirkus Reviews

"With the Bowery as the common thread binding together centuries of stories, Devil's Mile introduces us to the wide-ranging cast of characters--among them functionaries, farmers, artists and toughs--responsible for making Bowery history, then and now." --Kerri Culhane, architectural and urban historian and author, The Bowery National Register of Historic Places Nomination

"Devil's Mile is a terrific read. Alice Sparberg Alexiou knows her history, and she brings it all brimming to life here in the story of the Bowery, the most notorious street America." --Kevin Baker, author of The Big Crowd

"It's a great pleasure to have this detailed and fascinating history of New York's most notorious avenue, the Bowery." --Jim Jarmusch, filmmaker, musician