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King of the Jews Hardcover – May 3, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (May 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066211182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066211183
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,655,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Readers who make it to the end of this unusual book may already have asked themselves the author's closing questions: "Why am I writing this, and why are you reading it?" Those cracking the binding in hopes of encountering a new biography of mobster Arnold "the Brain" Rothstein, rumored to be the fixer behind the 1919 World Series scandal, will do some mental scratching at the lengthy introductory discourses on the etymology of "dice" and the Torah's variant names for God. Tosches is attempting to use the figure of the Tammany Hall–era gangster as an entry point for an idiosyncratic, wide-ranging history of Western civilization. Rothstein himself really doesn't appear until two-thirds of the way into the book (although earlier chapters about religion, fascism, political correctness and other subjects of interest to the author alternate with excerpts on the criminal from an old Brooklyn newspaper and from surrogate's court proceedings). This despite Tosches's representations—unsupported, alas—that the gangster deserves further study and attention "[b]ecause Arnold Rothstein is a shadow figure beyond good and evil." But by giving short shrift to the details of the endemic corruption plaguing New York City during Rothstein's reign, the author fails to make his case that misconduct by police and elected officials was at least as reprehensible. Agent, Russ Galen.(May 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Tosches' alleged biography of Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein certainly takes an interesting approach. After opening with Rothstein's death in 1928, Tosches embarks on a lengthy linguistic study of the Bible's change from "gods" to "God," then proceeds to debunk the myth that all European Jews came to the New World fleeing pogroms, pausing to explore early U.S.-Russian relationships, before even depicting Rothstein's grandparents' arrival in Manhattan in 1852. Along the way, he includes transcripts of a hearing regarding Rothstein's contested will and a first-person rant that starts by saying the Holocaust is inappropriately named. It's either deep, deep background or . . . what? Is Rothstein a Christ figure? A holy sinner? Was Jazz Age New York paradise? Is contemporary New York hell? Two-thirds of the way through, the book does start to be more "about" Rothstein. Writing in the first person again, Tosches says he's given up on the "tricks" of his trade, but all writing involves trickery; he's just opened a new bag. His book is sometimes boring, sometimes brilliant, often irritating. Readers looking for a gangster tale will be sorely disappointed--readers who want to know what it's like to live inside Tosches' head will hit the jackpot. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

2.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By White Rabbit on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I do not usually write book reviews because digesting books is such a personal experience, but I was surprised that none of the reviewers of Tosches's latest book got it, or him, at all. Tosches is definitely an idiosyncratic, splenetic writer who is not for everyone, but presumably that is exactly what his readers most value. The point of Tosches's book isn't to create a "real" biography of Rothstein, but to question the very nature of what is "real," what is "history," and what are the actual underpinnings of our beliefs. By refusing to artificially connect-the-dots of what little is "known" about Rothstein (or anyone/anything else), Tosches underscores the point that what most of us take as "history" is nothing but imaginative narrative that reveals more about the narrator than the putative subject matter. This is much the same point as Simon Schama made in Dead Certainties. Tosches's comments on the old testament, the devolution from gods to God, and the concoction of the christ figure are not random digressions, but further examples of the same point (the substantive questionability of received truth) writ large. Check out Umberto Eco's Serendipities for another exposition of how powerful myths (like christ or rothstein) sometimes start from nothing and are based on nothing. "In Russia, the past is unpredictable." "History" is an ever-growing cotton-candy meta-narrative spun from other people's equally baseless subjective narratives. Tosches book is, however, much more interesting that those other para-academic books. Dontcha get it?
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Sherry on August 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The dark specter of the private mind has often pervaded Nick Tosches' writing, as in his critically acclaimed biographies on Dean Martin (Dino) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Hellfire). Recently, however, the focal psyche examined by the author has been his own, as he scrutinizes and disparages at the behest of his various moods. His novel In the Hand of Dante confronts the writing racket. The Last Opium Den grieves the passing of old ways.

With King of the Jews, Tosches, a bit honked off that he can no longer light up in his favorite bars, has finally detonated a literary bomb over the whole of Western civilization, from the "confectionery lies called history" to contemporary culture's "mall of mortuary mediocrity." The text alleges to be a biography on Arnold Rothstein, yet history has buried the legendary gambler in a swathe of secrecy that even Tosches' exhaustive research fails to breach. Instead the author uses Rothstein as a window through which we can peer irreverently upon the hollow husk of history, "the snake-oil pitchman's forgery of yore" that becomes "inspirational gospel." While he shatters one Rothstein myth after another, he manages to dispense plenty of other snippets upon the reader with savage eloquence, theorizing, for instance, that early Hebraism was polytheistic, and comparing former Mayor Giuliani to the Nazis.

What saves this text from being a self-indulgent fit is that most of the author's arguments are compelling and persuasive, and apparently connected. At least for Tosches, who also undertakes a textually self-aware examination that begs such questions as "why am I writing this, and why are you reading it?" This is a thriving mausoleum of a biography; essentially dead as regards Rothstein's story, yet intricate and forebodingly poetic in its contemplation of everything else.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Howard D. White on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a fan fanatic when it comes to the work of Nick Tosches , and having read "In the Hand of Dante ', and then "Where Dead Voices Gather" , I am convinced Tosches is a genius. I am still in the process of buying up all that he has written. Having lit the candles and incense at the Tosches altar , I must admit that after reading "King of the Jews" in two days I was disappointed. This time he was not able to spin the magic as he did in "Trinities" and "Cut Numbers" , which I consider his masterpieces to date. I will still buy everything he writes and hope to meet him for dinner at some future date before we get much older.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Martin Chorich on September 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is the worst book I have tried to read in many years. It's a disorganized mishmash of shaky biblical scholarship, soft core porn, snarky comments on current events, and very little about Arnold Rothstein. I can cut writers a lot of slack. But Tosches' editors at Harper Collins should be held accountable for this dog's dinner of a book
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Orth on May 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I snapped up a copy of this because I read Tosches' Jerry Lee Lewis bio Hellfire years ago and loved it. Sadly, the dead-on brilliant writing of that earlier book is missing here. King of the Jews is a pretentious, rambling mess, almost unreadable in parts. Though I usually finish even bad books out of persistence, stubbornness, insomnia or for other reasons, I had to chuck this dog aside. I still think Tosches is a good writer and am going to give his Dino book a try, hoping for some of that Hellfire I remember him having.
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Format: Hardcover
Have not read a book by Tosches befor so did nt know anything about him. I found the book difficult to read, adone in which we moved from what was spposed to be he topic to a number of things. Some good scholarship on some Biblical points but had trouble understanding what he was making of it to follow the title.

J. Robert Ewbank autho "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the Isms" and "Wesley's Wars"
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