TOUGH JEWS

FATHERS, SONS, AND GANGSTER DREAMS IN JEWISH AMERICA

Yes, Deborah, there once were Jewish murderers who were part of organized crime in America. The story of their time, and especially of the syndicate known as Murder, Inc., based largely in Brownsville, Brooklyn, is told in this breezily anecdotal work. Cohen, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, focuses almost exclusively on New York from 1918 to 1945. He deftly portrays the personalities and the bloody deeds of such figures as Arnold Rothstein (who, contrary to myth and his fictional representation in The Great Gatsby, did not “fix” the 1919 World Series) and the killers Abe (“Kid Twist”) Reles and Louis Lepke. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and secondary sources, Cohen has done his homework, although he makes no reference to Jenna Weissman Joselit’s equally interesting if more scholarly Our Gang: Jewish Crime and the New York Jewish Community, 1900—1940. His book is filled with engrossing, vivid, violent anecdotes, and he is a fine teller of dark tales. Unfortunately, Cohen’s style sometimes yields flippant, hyperbolic claims, as in “The boys [of Murder, Inc.] had developed a system of killing as groundbreaking, as effective, as influential, as Henry Ford’s assembly line.” However, he does succeed admirably in explaining why even law-abiding Jewish men, including the author’s father and his friends, were fascinated by Jewish criminals, who defied the often tedious 9-to-5 work world and provided a countermyth to the Jew as victim. He also provides a satisfactory explanation as to why, for Jewish-Americans, violent crime was largely a one-generation phenomenon: By the postwar period, Jews had achieved enough upward mobility so that even criminal fathers encouraged their sons to “make it” in the professions and through legitimate businesses. For those who want to know about the dark underside of American Jewish life two and three generations ago, Cohen’s book, is a good place to begin. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (First serial to Rolling Stone; author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-83115-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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