Friedman (All Against The Law, 2014, etc.) offers an in-depth account of the crime bosses of Prohibition-era America.
Las Vegas was built by seven mobsters whom Friedman refers to as “The Young Turks”—Charlie Luciano, Giuseppe Doto (aka Joe Adonis), Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, Vincent Alo, Frank Costello, and Moe Dalitz. By working together out of New York—and successfully reigning in the murderous tendencies of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit—these gangsters eschewed the traditional underworld tactics of violence and monopoly to become the leaders of a multigang syndicate that dominated illegal liquor importation during Prohibition and later built the Las Vegas Strip (“The leaders...and their associates built 80% of the fabulous Strip resorts from the Flamingo in 1946 to Caesar’s Palace in 1966”). This book seeks to recount the history of this syndicate during its pre-Vegas years; more ambitiously, it seeks to correct the gross misconceptions of these men that Friedman believes are held by the wider culture: “A number of biographical books have been written about these early organized-crime leaders, but all are seriously flawed for the following reasons. Not one of these writers ever interviewed their criminal subjects or their few close associates.” Other revelations include that Arnold Rothstein did not fix the 1919 World Series, was never arrested or charged with any crime, and was not even terribly wealthy. Lucky Luciano was never involved in prostitution or murder (only gambling and rumrunning) and actually helped protect the port of New York from enemy agents during World War II. According to the book’s supplemental materials (including many addendums, hundreds of endnotes, a four-page bibliography, and an extensive index), Friedman’s account is the result of nearly five decades of research, including interviews with many former members of the gangs discussed. Most of Friedman’s assertions don’t upset the common wisdom so much as they fill in gaps in the common understanding. They offer a fascinating look at a little-documented world long dominated by speculation and Hollywood myth.
An entertaining, highly detailed account of the lives of some very famous gangsters.