LITTLE MAN

MEYER LANSKY AND THE GANGSTER LIFE

Superb revisionist biography not only of Meyer Lansky but also of the supposed American-Italian crime corporation called the Mafia; by the author of The Kingdom (1981) and Ford (1986). Lacey's larger message is that the Mafia is really like local groups of Freemasons, with sometimes quite active links between one another but not congealed into a centrally structured organization. There is ``no shadowy General Motors of crime.'' Moreover, the Mafia's way of life, Lacey shows, is less than mythic: ``The average mafioso, and much of his self-esteem, stem from the stereotypes that have been created by the media...Their lives are pale copies of the vigor and creativity of the straight world—and the clever ones like Meyer Lansky learn to copy its honesty as well.'' Lansky several times tried to set up businesses in the straight world, only to have them go under and find himself still stuck in the world of gambling. He suffered a brutal youth on New York's Lower East Side but early was taken under the wing of Arnold Rothstein, a.k.a. ``The Brain,'' who kept all his criminal businesses discrete—and kept their books in his head. Lansky, too, became famed for his head for figures, as well as for his lack of greed and his honesty in sharing. He was misquoted as saying that ``the Mafia'' was bigger than US Steel (he said ``organized crime'' was), and his reputed $300 million nest egg was fantasy, as Lacey makes clear. Lansky was a genius among his fellow thugs, but died almost broke while living modestly in retirement in Miami and caring for his ulcers and triple bypass. In 1974, he phoned Lee Strasberg to tell him, ``You did good'' (as the Hyman Roth/Lansky character in Godfather II): ``The deep voice on the phone was flesh and blood seeking contact with the celluloid image....'' Shoots huge holes in the great American gangster myth—and its many bad reporters. Enthralling. (Thirty-two pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1991

ISBN: 0-316-51168-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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