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LITTLE MAN by Robert Lacey

LITTLE MAN

Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life

By Robert Lacey

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1991
ISBN: 0-316-51168-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

 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.)