The story of ""how some Jews followed an undying American tradition""--crime--is colorful and fantastic enough to pass for a tall tale were it not carefully documented by Professor Fried (History; SUNY, Purchase). It begins in the late 19th century in the overcrowded ""old neighborhood"" (New York's Lower East Side, a ghetto replicated in many major cities) where the likes of Dopey Benny Fein and Big Jack Zelig hung out at Segal's Cafe on Second Avenue and --in connivance with Tammany Hall--regulated a notorious empire of vice: brothels, gambling dens, street gangs. As respectable Jews, aware that Jewish crime fed anti-Semitism, tried with some success to clean up the neighborhood, Prohibition suddenly made crime pay for a generation of street hoods (such as Waxey Gordon and Arthur Flegenheimer, alias Dutch Schultz) who turned to bootlegging. Gangs became syndicates as Jews and Italians, traditional ghetto neighbors, joined in the sinister business-partnership of crime. With repeal of Prohibition, gangsters turned to industrial racketeering. Fried chronicles the terrible triumph in the garment industry of brutal Lepke Buchalter and Gurrah Shapiro and their Murder Incorporated squad--and their comeuppance at the righteous if devious hands of Tom Dewey. Sole survivor of the violent old days is Meyer Lansky, czar of legalized gambling and, according to Fried, the last of the great Jewish gangsters; today, he writes, control of organized crime is passing from powerful individuals to faceless multinational corporations in a ""fusion of modern capitalism and modern criminality."" The bizarre cast of characters includes Arnold Rothstein (of Black Sox fame), Legs Diamond, Little Augie, Kid Twist, Al Capone, Lansky's boyhood pals Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, and an Orthodox hit man who never murdered on the Sabbath, ""if he could help it."" No import--but a grimly fascinating slice of Americana.