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Stuart W. Mirsky
- Publié sur Amazon.com
The life and times of the early twentieth century gangster, gambler and "fixer," Arnold Rothstein, this book takes us back to an era when gambling was still king in the newly consolidated city of Greater New York (created out of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as the townships that filled Queens and Staten Island in 1898). Rothstein came of age within this milieu, a man of vision and immense skill with numbers, as well as a remarkably huge moral blindspot. But in this last he was not alone as he existed in an environment of amoral excess, a time when politics in the city was characterized by widespread Tammany Hall corruption and dominance and when the police chiefs of the period were also numbered among the crime lords, running or sharing in the proceeds of gambling halls and houses of prostitution.
Round about 1914, with the murder of one of Rothstein's gambler cronies by a high police official who was notoriously brutal and crooked, the situation changed and reform politics took hold. This drove gambling and prostitution into the shadows though, inevitably, they didn't just disappear. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the shrewd gambling maven, Rothstein, altered his operations, moving some of his gambling business out to Long Island and bankrolling floating games (which demanded less police collaboration in order to remain in operation) in Manhattan itself.
With the advent of World War I, followed by Prohibition, Arnold Rothstein saw new prospects and began backing bootleggers, giving the start to famous gangland kingpins like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Rothstein, however, managed to always keep himself behind the scenes, the go-to guy for police and politician fixing, and for financing new crime ventures. All the while he lived the high life of a gambler (albeit with abstemious eating habits), prone to natty dressing with a penchant for playing the horses. (He even built his own stable of thoroughbreds at one point.) As rum-running began to be phased out, with the impending repeal of Prohibition, Arnold secretly bankrolled the illicit drug industry, again orchestrating the growth of new forms of organized crime.
A contemporary of men like Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond and Owney Madden, Rothstein was a one-man show, rather than a gang leader. But he was the brain and bankroll behind the growth of many of these gangs, a virtual gangland cash cow and master manipulator of others. He's best known, today, for having engineered the fixing of the 1919 World Series, though no one was ever able to definitively link him to the operation at the time. This book does a yeoman's job of laying out the complexities of that story but fails, in the end, to really make the "fix" crystal clear. In 1928, with his luck on the wane, Rothstein was shot to death by an unknown assailant when he went to a hotel room to discuss a large gambling debt he had incurred.
No one ever got nailed for that killing, either, but this book makes an interesting case for what might have happened and why. In the end Rothstein died more or less friendless and estranged from his Catholic ex-wife and his east European Jewish family, having been reluctantly written off by his pious father, known in his community as "Abraham the Just." Rothstein seems to have been a man who took the path he did at least in part out of a sense of revolt against his father's piety and religious convictions (and a delight in proving again and again that he was much cleverer than his contemporaries). At the same time, he was always seeking to live up to his father's reputation as a problem solver for others. But Rothstein solved the problems of gangsters, gamblers and crooked politicians, a very different community than the one in which his father, Abraham, had moved.
In the end, this book provides a lot of useful information and a powerful picture of early twentieth century New York City. But we don't come away knowing as much about Rothstein as we might like. An enigma to his contemporaries, he seems to have remained that, even to posterity, and this book does not do enough to alter that fact, even now.
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Richad of Connecticut
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Most people believe that Charles Lucky Luciano is the father of organized crime in this country. When you read Rothstein, you just might come to a different conclusion. This book is a page turner. If you want a real feel for what it was like to live at the turn of the 20th century and right on up through the Roaring 20's, this is the book that will give you a vivid description of the period, the feel, the restaurants, the lifestyle, the corruption, and the seduction.
Here's what I loved about the book:
* Rothstein is enshrouded with intrigue and surprises. A man this powerful and he travels with $50,000 in cash sometimes, and never a bodyguard. What am I missing?
* He fixes the 1919 World Series, and is the only one to walk away with an enhanced reputation. The police, the prosecutors and the Feds can't seem to touch him, or are they on the same side - you decide?
* Is he an evil genius, or just lucky? As he says, "I only bet on sure things?"
* He shoots 2 policemen or did he, and then fixes his own trial - what chutzpah?
* He likes boxing, and so maybe he fixes the Jack Dempsey - Gene Tunney championship fight? The story is all here, in every tantalizing detail.
* He had showgirls by the dozens, and betting parlors to match, not just here but in different cities, but New York was his town.
* He was known to politicians, high society, and even the common man through the newspapers as "The Big Bankroll, The Brain, and The Man Uptown".
* You will meet the major players of the age that Rothstein was a part of. You will meet such luminaries as Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the gambler Nicky Arnstein, and John McGraw the baseball aficionado.
There's Fiorello LaGuardia, and Gentleman Jimmy Walker, Legs Diamond. Oh yes, there's Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky, and they all come alive in this very readable book written by David Pietrusza who has obviously given his life to studying this period in our nation's history. It's in his blood.
Arnold Rothstein was hedging his bets and investments before hedge funds were invented. If he were alive today, he'd be running an investment banking firm, and changing the name every year. He was always several steps ahead of the law, and other criminals. Back in those days, the police were the criminals; they just wore badges, instead of dark suits.
The book is beautifully written on very high grade paper. There's 387 pages of narrative covered in 24 chapters, accompanied by believe it or not hundreds of footnotes. It's the biography of a criminal and author Pietrusza has footnotes in the book, like he's doing a Harvard thesis.
The chapter titles are very catchy. The author put a lot of thought into grabbing your interest. A couple of the more interesting ones are Nobody Loves Me (chapter 2), I Never Take My Troubles to the Cops (chapter 10, and I Don't Bet on ...Boxing (chapter 16). The chapter headings draw you in and you are compelled to dig into the chapter to find out what it is about.
You cannot possibly understand this chapter in American history without digging into the life of Arnold Rothstein. He is the underpinning to the development of criminal empires in the early 20th century. It all leads from him. Many of the players that would go on to develop their own criminal organizations started out with Rothstein.
Lucky Luciano was a kid when Rothstein started to train him, and although he would be involved in the muscle end of the business in decades to come, Rothstein helped him develop his mind, and taught him cunning, and shrewdness. The same was true for Meyer Lansky who was a teenager when he went to work for Rothstein. Probably everything that Lansky did over the next half century comes from what Rothstein taught him, including how to survive when others are dying around you.
Read the book and be prepared to be mesmerized by the most brilliant criminal mind of the early 20th century. Only just now is he beginning to get his due from authors such as David Pietrusza, and while you are at it, I thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck