Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Big Bankroll

David Pietrusza's biography of Arnold Rothstein is a good read. Pietrusza has a gift for story telling making this book more enjoyable than I anticipated.

For the layman, Rothstein is usually mentioned in a few sentences when reading an article about Lucky Luciano, et al or maybe a paragraph when discussing the "black sox". Well, I'm only a quarter of the way through this book and there is so much more to Rothstein's career. (Not that Luciano and the black sox are not important; I'm looking forward to reading about them.) Rothstein is perfect for the time he was born the quintessential fixer; a prolific gambler, and an unabashed cheat! In the first third of the book when Pietrusza is writing about Rothstein's early career he discusses the Becker affair (wonderful detail)Becker was executed because he was found guilty of ordering "Beansie" Rosenthal's murder. But did he? Or was a dishonest cop who had done so much damage the perfect fall guy for Tammany? I'd read much about how corrupt old New York was but Rothstein's life really makes me understand how corrupt it was! Imagine if all politicians were as corrupt as we believe them to be. Imagine if you could kill someone and have the police look the other way for the right price. Imagine if Reformers had to choose between the devil they knew and the devil they couldn't see. Ferocious class division, poverty and racism. If you think everyone cheats then this world is for you!

Evidently, Rothstein reveled in having people know he was smarter than they were and he wasn't adverse to cheating. What I didn't know before was that Rothstein founded American international drug trafficking. Evidently, Drugs were his last big endeavor before he was murdered. It's amazing how someone so smart could be so smarmy in his morals! I think Rothstein knew the Volstead Act's days were numbered by the late 1920's and he wanted something more viable. I don't agree with Pietrusza's assessment that bootlegging had too many variables for Rothstein. I do agree that the risks stopped being acceptable with so many players in the mix, but I think that Rothstein wanted something that would continue his income once America regained it's senses. That's my take anyway. All in all an enjoyable read.

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