From Publishers Weekly
Writing a biography of the notoriously secretive Arnold Rothstein
, a rum-and-drug-running, bookmaking loan shark who became one of the richest men in the world, is a gamble that, for the most part, pays off for Pietrusza (Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain
Landis). After a brief look at Rothstein's Jewish upbringing, Pietrusza concentrates mostly on his "business" interests and does an especially fine job of analyzing the involvement of the "Great Brain," as Rothstein was known, in fixing the 1919 World Series
. Quick to point out that the fix "was not the perfect crime," the author tracks down almost every lead associated with what is still one of America's most astonishing crimes thanks to how the caper was played out in the public eye. Strong investigative journalism helps Pietrusza make sense of the complex back stories of Rothstein's fathering of the American drug trade and the gambling debt that led to his murder. While seeking to expose the truth behind Rothstein's dealings and death, the author sweeps readers are into the seedy world of Tammany Hall politics, violent mobsters, dirty cops and paid-off judges. While many of these side stories prove worthwhile entertainment, the vast amounts of information needed to explain them allows the reader only glimpses of Rothstein's true personality. Still, while some readers may clamor for a more intimate portrait of the subject, Pietrusza persuades in his assertion that Rothstein really had only one true emotion: greed.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
If the name Arnold Rothstein is recognized today, it's as the man who fixed the 1919 World Series (Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby). But the Black Sox scandal was only one item on Rothstein's resume. In this scrupulously sourced biography, Pietrusza portrays the quintessential Jazz Age gambler and underworld kingpin as the black sheep in his Orthodox Jewish family. Enraged by his brother's piety, Rothstein vowed to go a different way. That he did, earning the nickname "the Big Bankroll" for his involvement not just in sports betting but also in labor racketeering, rum-running, Wall Street shenanigans, and even the beginnings of the drug trade. Pietrusza's prose is a bit clunky, but he's saved by his compelling subject matter and by the hundreds of cameos from some of the Roaring Twenties' biggest names: Dempsey, Runyon, Luciano, et al. The question of who killed Rothstein is investigated thoroughly, but fascination with that case has dimmed over the years. Not so Rothstein's life, which remains as intriguing as it was when he occupied his corner table at Lindy's. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved