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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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