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L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City [Kindle Edition]

John Buntin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends.

Midcentury Los Angeles. A city sold to the world as "the white spot of America," a land of sunshine and orange groves, wholesome Midwestern values and Hollywood stars, protected by the world’s most famous police force, the Dragnet-era LAPD. Behind this public image lies a hidden world of "pleasure girls" and crooked cops, ruthless newspaper tycoons, corrupt politicians, and East Coast gangsters on the make. Into this underworld came two men–one L.A.’s most notorious gangster, the other its most famous police chief–each prepared to battle the other for the soul of the city.

Former street thug turned featherweight boxer Mickey Cohen left the ring for the rackets, first as mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel’s enforcer, then as his protégé. A fastidious dresser and unrepentant killer, the diminutive Cohen was Hollywood’s favorite gangster–and L.A.’s preeminent underworld boss. Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Sammy Davis Jr. palled around with him; TV journalist Mike Wallace wanted his stories; evangelist Billy Graham sought his soul.

William H. Parker was the proud son of a pioneering law-enforcement family from the fabled frontier town of Deadwood. As a rookie patrolman in the Roaring Twenties, he discovered that L.A. was ruled by a shadowy "Combination"–a triumvirate of tycoons, politicians, and underworld figures where alliances were shifting, loyalties uncertain, and politics were practiced with shotguns and dynamite. Parker’s life mission became to topple it–and to create a police force that would never answer to elected officials again.

These two men, one morally unflinching, the other unflinchingly immoral, would soon come head-to-head in a struggle to control the city–a struggle that echoes unforgettably through the fiction of Raymond Chandler and movies such as The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential.

For more than three decades, from Prohibition through the Watts Riots, the battle between the underworld and the police played out amid the nightclubs of the Sunset Strip and the mansions of Beverly Hills, from the gritty streets of Boyle Heights to the manicured lawns of Brentwood, intersecting in the process with the agendas and ambitions of J. Edgar Hoover, Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X. The outcome of this decades-long entanglement shaped modern American policing–for better and for worse–and helped create the Los Angeles we know today.

A fascinating examination of Los Angeles’s underbelly, the Mob, and America’s most admired–and reviled–police department, L.A. Noir is an enlightening, entertaining, and richly detailed narrative about the city originally known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Se–ora la Reina de los Angeles, "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels."

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Buntin, a crime writer for Governing magazine, chronicles the complex, interlocking lives of brutal gangster Mickey Cohen and durable police chief William Parker, telling their stories against the backdrop of Tinseltown from the 1930s to the '60s. The author adds to the mix the colorful cultural and political saga of the star-struck metropolis, a city ripe for a bitter power play between the crooks and cops, rampant with drug dens, pleasure palaces, illegal gambling and other assorted vices. The ruthlessness of Cohen, an heir to "Bugsy" Siegel, and the deadpan determination of Parker are placed in proper context with the seminal events of Prohibition, the Red scare, the federal crackdown on mobsters, and the Watts riots. Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls hell-bent on opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion-as well as a sobering look at the role of the LAPD in fomenting racial tensions in L.A. 16 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Named One of Daily Beast's "Favorite Books of 2009"

"Important and wonderfully enjoyable….A highly original and altogether splendid history that can be read for sheer pleasure and belongs on the shelf of indispensable books about America's most debated and least understood cities…..Utterly compelling reading."
Los Angeles Times

"Completely entertaining….a colorful and entirely different take on the vices of Tinseltown."
–Daily Beast

"Echoes crime stylists Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy."
American History

"L.A. NOIR is a fascinating look at the likes of Mickey Cohen and Bill Parker, the two kingpins of Los Angeles crime and police lore. John Buntin's work here is detailed and intuitive. Most of all, it's flat out entertaining."
–Michael Connelly

"A roller coaster ride....Gripping social history and a feast for aficionados of cops-and-robbers stories, both real and imagined."
Kirkus Reviews

"Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls on hell-bent opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion."
Publishers Weekly

"Reads like a novel....almost impossible to put down. Buntin has written an important and entertaining book about one of America's greatest cities in the 20th century that echoes down to the world we live in today."

"In this breathtaking dual biography of mobster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker, John Buntin confronts America's most enigmatic city.  For a half century and more, the chiaroscuro of Los Angeles, its interplay of sunshine and shadow, has inspired novelists and filmmakers alike to explore what Buntin has now explored in a tour de force of non-fiction narrative."
–Kevin Starr, Un...

Product Details

  • File Size: 868 KB
  • Print Length: 434 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307352072
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (August 25, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002M41U0G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,108 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history, well told July 19, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"L.A. Noir" is a fascinating study of organized crime in Los Angeles and the politics of policing it from the Twenties to the Sixties. It's an entertaining read that I found hard to put down. The book has everything: mob hits, police brutality, corruption, violence, glamor, and pathos. The author focuses on two major figures whose lives spanned this period: the gangster Micky Cohen and LAPD officer and chief Bill Parker. The two eventually became bitter enemies in a struggle for the soul of the city.

For most of the time period covered, the LAPD resembled a mercenary army, subject to being bought off or bribed by one mob faction or another. Los Angeles was a wide open city, where crime flourished and no one tried too hard to bring the Syndicate to heel. While this sometimes led to wild instability and brutal killings, at other times the mob was able to reach an accommodation with the police and city hall, known as the "Combination." For a while, the Combination controlled L.A.

Mickey Cohen was a lackluster boxer and low-life hood who rose to the top in the criminal underworld in Los Angeles. His chief strengths appear to have been absolute ruthlessness and a complete lack of fear. He stood up with almost crazy resolve, especially in the early days, to mobsters much more powerful than he was, almost daring them to kill him. His recklessness paid off. Bugsy Siegel made him his right-hand man, and when Bugsy eventually dropped out of the picture, Mickey ascended to the top spot. He had it all: wealth, power, respect, and the company of beautiful women.

But Cohen had an adversary, a nemesis in Bill Parker. Parker was an odd duck: personally incorruptible but flawed by his heavy drinking, narrow-mindedness, and fits of rage.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy Beginning, Muddled Middle, Uneven Ending June 30, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Buntin is a writer for "Governing" magazine. According to Wikipedia, "it's a monthly magazine...whose subject area is state and local government in the United States. The magazine's circulation is approximately 85,000, most of whom are elected, appointed or career officials in state and local government." It's also a source as an authority for citations by the national media.

The book starts off with a bang, literally, describing the 'wild west' mentality in LA at the beginning of the century; and some of Mickey Cohen's more memorable 'rub outs'. Buntin is best when he's describes Mickey and 'The Mob', and the further back he starts the more sensational and interesting the background stories are. When he finally get's to the meat of the story, which is to be Mickey Cohen (i.e. Semi- organized Crime) and Police Chief William Parker, he begins to jumps around with dates and periods.

One of the failures of the book is that Butin is trying to write alternate chapters about one or the other main protagonists in the book, but at the time of the the major event of Parker's career (the Watts Riots) Cohen is in jail and no way involved. In fact it has nothing to do with 'organized crime' at all; most of the criminals at this point are gang based and totally disorganized.

The latter part of the book is all Parker and the 'civil rights' movement and race problems in LA, not to mention the inadequate size of the LAPD and living in the 'forties' mentality of the upper levels of the LAPD. Though Butin does put some of the blame on Parker for his inability to change with the times, he's constantly making excuses for him and tries to dump some of the blame on his successors.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched But Lacking A Soul March 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Marketing blurbs and splash page descriptions drew me to "L.A.Noir: The Struggle For The Soul Of America's Most Seductive City" and I was both rewarded and disappointed. The rewards emerged from the meticulous research and heavily annotated background of this effort that chronicle's the struggle for law and order in Los Angeles from the 1930's to the 1990's. My disappointment resulted from the very superficial, plodding, business-like approach taken by the author. There is no soul to this book that purports to research the struggle for the soul of L.A. There is no palpable atmosphere as places and people seldom spring to life in the dull unfolding narrative. Indeed, maybe the problem lies more in the fact that the narrative is almost totally chronological rather than structured around themes and incidents.

"L.A. Noir" is essentially the story of the politics of 20th century Los Angeles and the changing role of the LAPD and its chiefs. There are two themes that do seem to thread through the book, one plainly trumpeted as the rise of William Parker to L.A. Chief of Police and Mickey Cohen's rise to mobster/celebrity status, although this theme may be plainly overdrawn in the purported "titantic struggle" between the two. The other, less identified but certainly more powerful theme was the inevitable changing demographics of the Los Angeles metropolitan area that ultimately changed the political, cultural, and social make-up of L.A. and the effect those changes had on the LAPD and the political scene.

Having lived through the last 50 years of the book, I was intrigued by remembering people or incidents from the past, expecially celebrities and crises.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Depressing but interesting study of a dirty city
Extremely detailed and complete, an exhaustive compilation of information. Suspect nothing much has changed in LA, must be something in the water.
Published 2 days ago by Allen B. Christner
4.0 out of 5 stars Struggle to the end
Very good book about two men each of strong will, but in the end neither really wins a thing and dies of their own demons respectively. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Aubrey W. Bowles Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Treatment of The Mob vs. Law & Order History of Southern...
Most police procedural fans already know the story of how East Coast crime bosses came west for new territory to dominate. Read more
Published 14 days ago by stephen a. ernst
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Historical Read
As a former Los Angelino, I found this history of the LAPD' s war on mobsters like Mickey Cohen and Bugsey Seigel and the corrupt politicians fascinating. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Carole Kaplan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read...great writing...lots and lots of history...
great read...great writing...lots and lots of history about a city in search of an identity in search of a city
Published 22 days ago by Rex Mcmillan
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling....
I grabbed this as a follow up to the cancelled MOB CITY, the Frank Darabont series which uses it as a its basis. Read more
Published 1 month ago by P. Edwards
3.0 out of 5 stars ok
I hate doing this to get these out of my messages. Oh well. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.
Published 1 month ago by Patricia J. Hubbard
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
After I saw the movie, Gangster Squad, on which this movie was based, I had to have the book. Not disappointed.
Published 1 month ago by Joyce Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener!
It is utterly amazing how someone can live through all of the headlines and events Buntin writes about, and be utterly unaware of them at the time. Thanks Mr. Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. Sitton
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book
Ive only read the first 5 chapters and I cant put it down for 1 minute . Great Los Angeles crime noir .Already looking forward to the 2nd .
Published 1 month ago by michael clawson
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