From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. William Marcy Tweed didn't invent graft, but he rigged elections and stole from the public on an unprecedented scale, gaining a stranglehold on New York City and amassing a vast personal fortune. By the early 1870s, he and his "ring" had skimmed between $25 and $40 million from the municipal treasury, a staggering amount even in an era notorious for robber barons and market manipulators. Ackerman, the author of The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday 1869, a book about two other Gilded Age scoundrels, deftly chronicles Tweed's epic rise and ultimate disgrace, giving us a nuanced portrait of the "Boss." Early in his career, Tweed brilliantly recognized that he could win power by mobilizing New York's teeming working-class and immigrant wards. Through patronage and largesse, Tweed recruited an army of ballot-box stuffers who helped install his cronies in office, allowing him to award jobs and contracts to friends while punishing enemies. Tweed's ring borrowed vast amounts on the city's tab and spent lavishly on such public projects as Central Park, making Tweed "the city's grand benefactor, Santa Claus with a diamond pin." But while Ackerman gives Tweed his due, describing how the Boss's machine aided the poor and helped modernize a crowded, chaotic city, the author is too clear-eyed to present his subject as a latter-day Robin Hood. Ackerman's Boss Tweed robbed everyone-and kept plenty for himself. And ultimately, Tweed's corruption and fiscal recklessness had crippling consequences for the city long after he died, penniless, in jail. In the end, this book is not only a compelling look at the colorful yet ruthless man who invented the big city political machine, it is also the gripping story of how dedicated newspapermen and zealous reformers brought down a notorious kingpin.
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For historians, Tweed "is worth his weight in gold" (New York Times
). Ackerman, who has written previous books on Gilded Age excesses, focuses on the years after 1870 when Tweed hopscotched between court and jail. Critics agree that Tweed, his cronies, and the crusading journalists responsible for his spectacular downfall come alive. Colorful details and a clear-eyed approach to both Tweeds great leadership and even greater crimes highlight his opportunist philosophy and antics, though his formative years remain a mystery. A poor sense of chronology, combined with failures to address revisionist claims that Tweed was an "honest grafter" and examine his effect on the "soul of modern New York," weaken the book. Despite these flaws, Boss Tweed
is an excellent history with modern-day parables.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.