ON THE WATERFRONT by Malcolm Johnson


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A compilation of The New York Sun’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 1948-49 series, which uncovered widespread corruption and violence affecting the longshoremen who toiled along the city's crime-ridden waterfront.

Written by investigative reporter Johnson, “Crimes on the Waterfront” exposed the racketeering that had crept like cancer through the shipping trade and threatened the lives of blue-collar Gothamites. Crooked hiring bosses, loaders and stevedores outnumbered the honest longshoremen, who in order to stay employed were forced to take loans from shark bosses, pay steep kickbacks, ignore pilfering and keep their mouths shut or end up dead under a pier. Local corruption had a direct effect on the city’s economy as prices soared and shippers avoided New York like the pirate’s cove it was. Though allegations of communist sympathies and death threats were made against Johnson and his family, the series prompted a reformation of the local shipping trade and served as the basis for Budd Schulberg’s most famous screenplay. The volume at hand reprints the series with a foreword from Johnson’s son Haynes (also a Pulitzer winner) and an introduction by Schulberg, as well as additional articles by the screenwriter on the same subject. Johnson, who died in 1976, is fearless in his coverage of those most affected by the criminal activity, making these articles a saga of racketeering and the everyman. Soaked in the vernacular of the late 1940s, his prose offers a strictly factual interpretation of the issues. The series remains as it first appeared in The Sun, so reading individual articles in succession becomes somewhat repetitive due to the unavoidable refreshers intended for the original newspaper readership. Framed by Schulberg’s more cinematic articles depicting life on the waterfront with plenty of individual portraiture, Johnson’s series gains an associative literary texture that fleshes out this seriously roughneck subject.

An intriguing episodic account of true crime and survival on New York’s outer edges.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-59609-013-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Chamberlain Bros./Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2005


NonfictionDARK HARBOR by Nathan Ward
by Nathan Ward