Although most of us may have known Herbert Asbury as a writer, he was actually a journalist. His books were The Gangs of New York, The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld and Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. His main topic was the crimes in 19th and 20th centuries in New York. Probably his most famous work was Gangs of New York. Martin Scorsese directed a movie, which was almost following the book. However, the nomination for “Best Original Screenplay” shows that the movie has significant differences with the storyline.
Herbert Asbury was raised in a family of preachers. Unfortunately, when he was a teenager he became disappointed by the church. Herbert Asbury participated in World War I and later was promoted to a second lieutenant. He survived a gas attack in France and in 1919 was honorably discharged.
Asbury became popular when H. L. Mencken published his scandalous story in a magazine he owned.
The story was for a prostitute who led her customers to different cemeteries according to their belief. The result was that the magazine was closed and later attempts to publish again the scandalous story led to the arrest of H. L. Mencken. Asbury became more popular and started to publish more and more stories. He managed to continue his reporter career and to write at the same time. In 1928, he continued to write only. Unfortunately, he published several unsuccessful works, including some plays for Broadway. He died from chronic lung disease in 1963.