A round of drinks, an angry challenge, a flash of steel: these are the central motifs of this pioneering study of male sociability in modernizing Buenos Aires. Waxing nostalgia for a vanished “mythology of knives” and duels, Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, “a song of heroism has been lost in sordid police reports.” Digging deep into those very police reports—the first research to do so—Sandra Gayol has produced a theoretically astute and empirically grounded account of the emergence of an urban café world. In contrast to a poetic tradition that has tied male violence almost exclusively to a criollo past, Gayol stresses the importance of immigrants and modernity, tracing the broader patterns and rituals of conviviality in a rapidly changing city. One tantalizing strand of her analysis traces how women, who had held an important place in the earlier pulperías, were gradually...

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