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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2010
When I bought this book, who could tell that I and my fellow readers were being robbed of our $25 purchase price! Not only was KOH repetitive and terribly edited, but also, poorly researched. There was nothing new written about George Leslie. What was recounted could better and more interestingly be read in a good crime encyclopedia such as that of Carl Sifakis.
The author's main contemporary source was the New York Times which was certainly not anywhere near as good a reference as the Police Gazette, the leading crime reporting newspaper of the time.
There isn't a footnote in the book and much of the "facts" about Leslie are conjectural,at best. In direct comparison to this minimum opus, I suggest Mike Dash's First Family which is interesting, well written, and thoroughly researched. As compared to Luc Sante's Low Life, this work pales.
After slogging through KOH, I know how Leslie's victims felt.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2010
This was one of those little known aspects of the Gilded Age frequently overshadowed by the true larger than life personalities of the day. The facts of George Leslie and his knack for non-violent bank robberies were fascinating, but because Conway wrote it more as a fictional narrative (or TRIED to) the more unique elements of the story got lost in the shuffle. For instance, Leslie's invention, the Little Joker; I really wanted to see a diagram or a copy of a blueprint of how it actually worked once placed inside a safe dial to help reveal the combination. I also wanted to see a photo or drawing of Leslie, I'm sure that one must have existed somewhere, college graduate photo--something!!! I went on google and got a drawing of him, why wasn't one put in this book???? I actually "googled" a few things that Conway refered to in this book to see if images were available anywhere. As usual, that fine website didn't disappoint. The only photos we really saw in "King" were of financiers Fisk and Gould, who have had thier likenesses published in almost every book about that time and of places in New York at that time; again, easily accessable images.

The text was a bit repetative and that was all the more confusing and watered down the story that much more. I hope Mr. Conway is more forthcoming and less of a "broken record" when teaching his collegate english classes. As the old saying goes, "those who can't do teach." I guess, in that respect, some things really never do change, do they????????
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2010
Although the book promised to be a work of true crime, the only true crime was the apparently endited form the book was published in. It seemed more like a working draft of a book, not a finished work. Identical thoughts and phrases were used over and over again. It was as if the author had been paid by the word.

Conway filled the book with tidbits of Old New York history, but made shocking errors that a quick trip to Google might have prevented. One small example was his reference to the infamous prison in the "City of Sing Sing". There is no such place. The jail was and is located in Ossining, New York. Conway got neighborhood boundaries incorrect, particularly the location of the Bowery. His tidbits, while interesting in themselves, often had no relationship to the story he was attempting to tell. He also filled the book with political commentary, that had nothing to do with the story.

The book was not at all about the "King of Heists, The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878..."; it was a gossipy biography of a dandified bank robber, George Leslie.

Not recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2010
I found this book to be entertaining, but like other people who have reviewed this book, I also found the author has a bad habit of telling the end of a particular story and then going back and telling the beginning. I found this very frustrating as well. Also the repetition. It also seems to me that a large section of the book, esp having to do with Leslie himself, was fictionalized. The conversations, etc. Or, lets say, conjecture....

He gives a bibliography at the end of the book, but I REALLY would have liked to see the footnotes, to see where he got his particular information. He also included a few mistakes, like Jim Fisk's role "Black Friday", when he and Gould tried to corner the Gold market. And some of the details he mentions about Fisk's girlfriend, Josie Mansfield. He suggests that she may have had some lesbian relationships, but in all the books I have ever read about James Fisk, that was never mentioned. And I can't imagine any contemporary sources hinting at a subject like that.

I think a book about "Marm" Mandelbaum might have proved more interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2011
I enjoyed this book but the repetition of facts and phrases soon got on my nerves. Was there no editor involved? This book could be condensed 30% and not lose a single idea. I'm on the Internet now to see if I can find out more detail about the "little joker" George Leslie invented to record the combination of bank vaults when hidden under the dial. About all we get in this book is on p.36 where we learn that it is "a small tin wheel with a wire attached to it... [that] would record where the tumblers stopped by making a series of deep cuts.... The deepest cuts in the wheel would show the actual numbers of the combination." Tantalizing stuff for a Mission Impossible fan like me but painfully short!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2013
The book has a nice cover and the paper stock is fine. And that's about all I can say to recommend this book. Professor North's "King of Heists" was a huge disappointment. It started out promising enough; I enjoyed the description of George Leslie at Delmonico's and his first visit to Marm Mandelbaum. Then I noticed things began to repeat themselves.

Then I noticed that the narrative would be interrupted by a lengthy digression into someone's background. Then sentences began to repeat themselves. Did you know that John Walsh's nickname was "Johnny the Mick"? You will, after struggling through this. His full name with nickname is only mentioned two thousand times. And then things started repeating themselves. Sentences started repeating themselves. Did you know that George Leslie detested violence during his robberies, and was very upset when an employee of a bank died during a heist? You will.

And then there were too many newspaper accounts. Under the guise of giving us what the press and, presumably, the City was thinking, they were mostly (and sometimes dubious) filler. A lot of filler in this book. A lot and a lot of filler, just to fill up space. The book struggled to make just over 210 pages and it showed. Did we really need to have full accounts of the Fisk/Stokes/Mansfield trials? (No. The trials had NOTHING to do with the great heist.) And then things started repeating themselves. Sentences started repeating themselves. Did you know that George Leslie had a dangerous and deadly soft spot for women? You'd better, after reading this. It's only pounded into your head a million times. And then things started repeating themselves. Sentences started repeating themselves.

And then great leaps of logic filled the pages. Desperate for a conclusion, North tells us that the end of the careers of the gangs of the Five Points and the Lower East Side gangs, combined with Jacob Riis' journalism and the reform movement, led to the creation of... ready?... the mafia[!][?][!][?] (I'm feeling guilty for venting like this. Almost.)

And then things started repeating themselves. Sentences started repeating themselves.... The editor must have been kidnapped. Please pay the ransom
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
The author promises a story about "The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America," but most of the book has absolutely nothing to do with that crime or the "shock" it imposed on the nation. Conway repeatedly digresses in detail about people and events with no connection whatsoever to the crime of the subtitle. Mild spoiler alert: The cover text and introduction slyly lead the reader to believe John D. Rockefeller is involved in the story, but he's not. That John Roebling was somehow also involved--nope. That the mastermind behind the heist, George Leslie, eluded capture and conviction for the crime--well, only in a manner of speaking. That the thieves got away with $3 million in loot--um, maybe, but not really. The reader is also promised a story written in the tradition of "The Devil in the White City," but sadly, Conway doesn't reach that level. This would have been much better as a fictionalized account of the robbery, perhaps from the perspective of one of the bit players. Such an approach would have done justice to Conway's exhaustive research and strong feel for the colorful characters of New York's Gilded Age, and would have left the reader far more satisfied.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2009
King of Heists is an informative account of great bank robberies in American history during the middle to late 1800's. The book culminates with the great bank robbery of October 27, 1878, when thieves broke into New York's Manhattan Savings Institution, stealing $3 million in cash and securities. The main character, George Leslie, figures prominantly in the book, however, Conway also details a background of tough, arrogant and pretentious personalities whom Leslie meets while scheming his bank robberies in the ostentatious Gilded Age. One drawback to the book is Conway's constant repetition of information from his previous paragraphs, leaving the reader feeling that Conway considers his audience forgetful of that information which he wrote in previous chapters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2012
The narrative is excellent about this compelling tale, but only when the professor is not repeating himself. If you read the book, you will come to a paragraph that entirely repeats, in summary form, the prior few pages. Jarring. Some flashbacks or stage setting is useful, but for this poor level of writing and editing to come from someone who teaches college English is simply unacceptable. It feels at times as if the author never reread his own work. Or is perhaps too senile to notice the repetition! Both the author and editor deserve some blame for so severely unnecessarily fattening this story. I can understand why this is a movie now, though.
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on April 26, 2011
Some of the complaints by other reviewers are valid: the narrative can be repetitive at times, the lack of diagrams and photos of George Leslie is surprising and disappointing, and the book really is NOT about the "sensational bank robbery of 1878 that shocked America." This is a story about everything that led up to that robbery, but little about the robbery itself (for reasons made clear in the book). That being said, it's an interesting and enjoyable read. It's just a good story.

Don't expect this to be a heavy academic study. This was clearly written as a pleasure read, to appeal to a wide audience. And I think it is successful in doing that. It covers a range of topics that give the reader a sense of life in the Gilded Age, as well as a biography of one of the most successful bank robbers of the time.

I don't know if it's a complaint or not, but the author's habit of including quotations from era newspapers grew tiresome. I admire his efforts to include them, but after a while they seemed redundant and unnecessary.
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