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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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 Tweed’s 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (December 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078671686X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786716869
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,304,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm Ken Ackerman and writing history has been a passion of mine for over twenty years,and politics an obsession since the 1960s. To me, history has to have a purpose, to expose truth, to point direction, to provoke thought. It has to tell a story.

I'm especially drawn to neglected topics like the Gilded Age, the post-World War I Red Scare, or old ocean divers -- blind spots in our collective memory that often point to raw nerves.

When not writing, I practice law in Washington, D.C. at OFW Law. Before that, I held a long line of political spots on Capitol Hill (staff counsel to two US Senate Committees, Governmental Affairs and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry) and in two Administrations (under Bill Clinton at the US Department of Agriculture and under Ronald Reagan at a regulatory commission called the CFTC).

But enough about me. Hope you enjoy the books. Humor me on the attitude. -KenA

Check out my web site at

Check out my blog at

Contact me at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Lewis Morrison on February 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"I recently got my hands on an advance copy of Ken Ackerman's new BOSS TWEED book and stayed up all night to finish it. It's that good! Ackerman blows to bits all the tired old stereotypes about Tweed and brings the old Boss into vivid focus, an awesome presence that jumps off the pages. It's a story of highs and lows, pride and tragedy, backroom deals, treachery, ambition, and politics played with raw abandon. Thomas Nast (his cartoons are everywhere in the book), the New-York Times, and Sam Tilden all figure prominently, but with unexpected twists. In the end, Ackerman makes no excuses for Tweed's crimes, but still finds a core of integrity in the man that carries the story. Politicians today, the sorry lot they are, could learn a few good tricks from old Boss Tweed."
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on July 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an enlightening, meticulous story of William "Boss" Tweed and, as past of the context, his three key cronies in the ring: Peter Sweeny, Richard Connolly and Oakley Hall. It is a story about how the New York Times elevated itself by getting the goods on corruption and bravely exposing it on the front page. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

The time of power (terror?) for Tweed's edition of Tammany Hall was relatively short, but Tammany Hall power lingered well after Tweed's demise, another eithy-five years. The critical moment to the story is when Tweed engineers the proverbial license to steal by devising a new charter for New York City, putting the power in the hands of his incredibly greedy ring of thieves. The four took this opportunity to carve out a fortune for themselves, primarily by paying millions of dollars for a courthouse that should have cost a few hundred thousand to build. A disgruntled 'whistleblower' (the term had no meaning back then) copied over the records in enough detail to demonstrate the bold theft and fraud. There are several versions of how the blockbuster story of the padded expenses and outright theft came into the Times' hands, but the remarkable part of the story is just how brazen the "Ring" could be, how convinced they were of their own invincibility or ability to bribe, cheat and steal their way out of any legal investigation or hearings. People who today believe we live in an era of unbridled corporate greed and ethical lapses need to read this book to better understand how much the supposed watchdog and people's friend -- the government -- can be part of the problem and a barrier to the solution.

The cast of characters, sinners, (few) saints, and masses of immigrants makes following the flow of the book sometimes a challenging task.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Gardner VINE VOICE on March 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The illustrations prompted me to buy this book, political satire and cartoons fascinate me. Thomas Nast and Harpers Ferry produced some exceptional work on Boss Tweed. Even less balanced than journalism of today - editorial cartoons had superb artwork and were very vicious.

The author provides a well written, lucid and balanced portrait of a politician who was very corrupt (by any standard) but achieved alot. The courthouse he was responsible for building (and was sentenced in)is a great monument for Tweed; most ironic.

The author demonstares well the long term impact Tweed had on New York City. Great book - an empathetic account of a fascinating man.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Kenneth Ackerman's "Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York" is a brilliant look back at one of New York's--and America's--most notorious figures. While William M. Tweed is portrayed in an occasional sympathetic light, Ackerman steers clear of moralizing for the most part. This isn't easy when you consider the scope of the Tweed Ring's criminal activity. In the long run, and perhaps intentionally, Tweed comes off a little better than his ring members, and certainly less devious than others who walked away from their years of crime (read: Jay Gould and Jim Fisk).

The cast of the book reads like a Who's Who of 19th Century New York: Tilden, Nast, Greeley, Bryant, Gould, Fisk, etc. Peppered with a generous heaping of illustrations and photos, the book is well-paced, slowing down only to explain the intricacies of the deceptions and the "laundering" of the stolen funds.

More important, the book gives us a rare glimpse of what life was like in mid-19th Century New York: that includes daily life, as well as political. If there is anything negative to say, it's about the subtitle. I'm not convinced that Tweed "conceived the soul of modern New York". A lot of other people can take that credit (or blame, depending on your point of view). But I'm nit-picking. Treat yourself to this history!

Rocco Dormarunno

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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Ackerman, a very fine writer, does a good job of telling the basic tale of the Tweed Ring and New York City's Tammany Hall of the late 1860s and 1870s. However, I think toward the end of the book the author strays into loving his subject at the expense of a balanced historical view of the self-confessed public thief that was Boss Tweed. For example, Mr. Ackerman often describes Tweed after his fall from power as elderly and thus worthy of compassion-- when in fact he was only 55 at death. We are invited to have sympathy for Tweed just because most other public thieves in the Ring evaded justice. Great detail is gone into about the hardships on Tweed when he chose to fly from custody and disappeared on a long seasick voyage before being brought back to New York from Spain. Much is made of the vast sums he spent on his legal defense, which in the end sadly depleted his personal treasury, which as I recall was built only on graft. I'm sorry--the guy was a crook who blasted honest government and deserved more punishment than he got.
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