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But He Was Good to His Mother : The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters Paperback – January 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-9652292490 ISBN-10: 9652292494 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gefen Publishing House (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9652292494
  • ISBN-13: 978-9652292490
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Dr. Robert Rockaway was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 1970. He taught at the University of Texas before moving to Israel 1971. Since then, he has been a member of the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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This is an easy and fun read.
Martin Richelsoph
Rockaway does an outstanding job of presenting the facts about Jewish gangsterism of the early twentieth century.
Eli (mid57@aol.com)
There was so much more and much repetition from other books on the subject... I enjoyed it though.....
Robert Feldman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Rick "Mad Dog" Mattix on December 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I love authors who revise their work instead of just recycling it. The first edition of But He Was Good to His Mother was good but marred by one embarrassing error: it repeated as fact the fictional murder of Moe Dalitz from the late William Roemer's novel War of the Godfathers. Rockaway was not the first author to make this mistake--Roemer and his publisher should have made it clearer their book was fiction--but the Dalitz murder is rightfully deleted from this edition and there is expanded, factual, and accurate information throughout on Jewish gangsters, including such legendary figures as Meyer Lansky (whom Rockaway interviewed), Bugsy Siegel, Lepke and Gurrah, Kid Cann, Dutch Schultz, Waxey Gordon, Longy Zwillman, Big Jack Zelig, Boo Boo Hoff (who introduced the tommy gun to Philadelphia's Prohibition underworld), Mickey Cohen, the Purple Gang and others. The rise and fall of the Jewish gangsters, their relationships to the Jewish community (roles in "upward mobility" and even as sometime defenders of their people); to the Italian mob; and to 20th Century urban America are explored wonderfully and insightfully. Rounding out the book are ample source notes and an excellent bibliography. This book is a labor of love by an author who likes to get his facts straight.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jonah Cohen on December 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
A seldom-covered aspect of true crime history and Jewish history, "But He was Good to His Mother" is a fine read for anyone interested in either. It delves into the histories of several gangsters, their misdeeds, relationships to the Jewish community and anecdotes that shed some light on what these crimelords were really like. Plenty of photos are included.
Rockaway does a fairly good job of striking a balance in tackling a delicate subject. He points out the occasional admirable deeds of the gangsters (protecting American Jews from anti-semites, for example) while making it quite clear that these were very bad men. He fesses up that these killers and lawbreakers were admired by some in the community, but by no means all.
Occasionally, books about influential Jews get a little hokey when they gush over how the values of the Jewish community produced so many great people. (As though, without centuries of respect for learning by the Jews, Einstein might never have come up with relativity; whatever.) As a Jew myself, I think it feels more honest and refreshing to see it acknowledged that these same values and shared history produced some no-goodniks along the way, too. And ones who broke the stereotypes about Jews at that.
If anything, I'd have liked more information, more stories about the gangsters in the book. Especially nice would have been more on their role in the general public's perception and pop culture. The book doesn't tell you that the purple gang was infamous enough to be mentioned in Elvis Presley's JailHouse Rock, no opinion on who did a better job of playing Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth in "Hoodlum" or James Remar in "The Cotton Club"?), no word on whether Mickey Cohen was really as daft as James Ellroy portrays him, no mention of "Bugsy" or "The Godfather, part 2".
Still, I liked the book. I wouldn't label it an offer you can't refuse, but it's an offer it wouldn't kill you to accept.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Luellen Smiley on April 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
After reading more than fifty books by crime experts, I was thrilled to find this pick. This is in my opinion, one of the best accounts of jewish gangsters. More than sensational headlines Mr. Rockaway dives into the soul of the gangster. I was especially proud of the reference to my father, Allen Smiley, and the ancedote that went with it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
Robert A. Rockaway, an historian and a member of the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, wrote this engaging, often funny history of several dozen Jewish American gangsters from the beginning of Jewish settlement in the US until the end of World War II when the number of Jewish criminals declined sharply.
Jews have been known to have made a significant positive contribution to American and world life, far larger than their representation in society, but being human, there were also Jews at the nether end of the social spectrum.
In 1928, Rabbi Mortimore J. Cohen bemoaned the shame "that has come to all Israel in the crimes of a lawless few. What disgrace is ours through these men, less than human, who have, without let or hindrance, dragged the Jewish name in the mud and filth of murder and corruption."
When Jews first came to the United States, they were praised for being among the country's most law-abiding and least violent citizens. This situation changed around 1880 when there was a large influx of Jews into the United States due to pogroms and other oppressions in Europe and Russia. These new arrivals were forced to live in slum-like conditions.
In 1886, a chief of detectives published a compendium of "America's leading professional criminals" most of whom lived in New York. Over four percent of the men on the list were Jewish, but this figure is low; Jews represented ten percent of the New York population.
Rockaway shows that virtually every one of these criminals was Jewish in heritage only. They knew nothing or close to nothing about Judaism and also lacked a secular education. Some could not even read.
Rockaway's stories are fascinating.
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