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Len Small: Governors and Gangsters Hardcover – August 19, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


I can hardly wait for the mailman to come because author Jim Ridings from downstate Illinois has, at last, written the definitive book on the most egregious political crook ever to have served public office in Illinois--one who easily tops Blago, George Ryan and exceeds the general lumping together of all the mayors of Chicago plus outsiders like Earl Long of Louisiana, Aaron Burr of New York, sleazes like U. S. Senators Billy Lorimer and Roland Burris, alderman like Bathhouse John, Hinky Dink Kenna, Pat Nash and Orville Hodge and Boss William E. Tweed of Tammany Hall. Unless you are a genuine Illinois political scholar you will be surprised to learn it is one Len Small [1862-1936]. To get the book you must run, not walk, to your computer keyboard and order it from Amazon.com where you can get it for $24.95. When I was a boy, my father showed me a copy of The Tribune which he nurtured from the mid-twenties. The paper had, to its credit, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in printers ink defaming...justly...this viper. And when he was reelected, the paper s editorial page said: It Seems Len Small Was Re-elected. Thereupon followed at least an acre of white space, signifying the paper had utterly nothing good to say about him or his victory. Jim Ridings, a Hersher, Illinois author, has written the book that I am eagerly awaiting entitled: Len Small: Governors and Gangsters. Believe me the usual history of governors, written by Bob Howard entitled curiously Mostly Good and Competent Men is outrageously bland and skips over much of the real story of Small...but we have Ridings to thank for this obviously great work of scholarship. Buy the book and once read it thank God that our crooks have been minor league next to him. And thanks to Jim Ridings for writing it! --Tom Roeser, legendary Chicago commentator and political analyst, Oct. 15, 2009

I recently read a book about corruption in Illinois, and I was shocked at the tales of greed and graft, tentacles of organized crime, control of politics and government by Chicago bigwigs and biased reporting from a politician-owned newspaper. Did I mention that the book is about Illinois Gov. LEN SMALL, a Republican from Kankakee who was governor from 1921 to 1929? If the name doesn t ring much of a bell, author JIM RIDINGS thinks the time has come for Small to get his due. Len Small was one of the most corrupt public officials in American history, the book states. Len Small sold thousands of pardons and paroles as governor, including pardons to gangsters, murderers, white slavers and even cop killers, it alleges. Some were sold by Len Small and his emissaries to AL CAPONE and to other mobsters. The author provides a very comprehensive at times exhaustively comprehensive look at the news from Small s day. Much of it is told through news outlets, including stories by the Chicago Tribune which Small railed against Time magazine, and the old Kankakee Daily Republican, which Small owned. The old Kankakee Daily News, which was anti-Small, also is quoted freely. One example of the book s detail involves Small s 1922 trial on charges that he embezzled more than $1 million from the state while state treasurer before his term as governor. Small beat the charges in court. The book goes on to name each of the dozen jurors, which seems excessive until Ridings later spells out the state jobs most of the jurors were given. A former cab driver from Antioch was named a deputy game warden. Two others were appointed state highway patrolmen. The jury foreman got a job as drainage inspector at Stateville prison, then under construction. Small was accused of depositing the stolen state money in a phony bank that had a name, but no building, no room, no furniture and no sign. Two gangsters who had bribed the jurors were granted immunity but still refused to testify, Ridings reports. They were jailed for contempt of court and Governor Small quickly pardoned them. Small attempted to avoid arrest in the first place by claiming protection from the constitution saying the judicial branch of government could not interfere with the executive branch. Despite Small s victory in criminal court, he was sued to recover interest money on the state funds that he allegedly kept for himself. He vetoed a $75,000 appropriation to pay for prosecution of the civil suit, and he also vetoed the entire $250,000 the attorney general was planning to use for law enforcement, the book reports. And even though Small maintained his claim that he didn t steal, he did pay the state back $650,000 in 1927. Ridings also explores Small s relationship to some of Illinois history s other lesser lights, including mob-connected Chicago Mayor BIG BILL THOMPSON. Len Small sold his soul to Big Bill Thompson, and Al Capone held the mortgage, it says. Ridings also devotes a tough chapter to another Kankakee politician, former Gov. GEORGE RYAN, who is serving prison time for corruption in office. George H. Ryan was not a pin-striped gangster with a tommy-gun, in the mold of the Roaring Twenties although Hollywood casting agents might agree that he looked like one, Ridings wrote. Ridings also spends five pages describing the sometimes-grisly crimes of many of the 167 inmates whose death sentences were commuted by Ryan. --Bernard Schoenburg, Springfield Journal-Register, Oct. 4, 2009

I've just now finished Len Small: Governors and Gangsters. It is truly a comprehensively great contribution to Illinois historical literature. Until now no one has done a thorough job on Illinois' most evil governor...and I mean evil in the abject sense. Blago was a combination of self-serving, duplicity and conscience-lessness...but Small took money to spring convicted kills and mob figures so they could go back to the public. Every history of Illinois that I've read glosses over Small-but thanks to Jim Ridings, an investigative reporter, Small's whole career is meticulously documented. Ridings shows no mercy but also is scrupulously fair. The book is self-published but can be purchased via Amazon-or you can send for it at: Side Show Books, P. O. Box 464, Herscher, Illinois 60941. The subject is long-long overdue and from now on every Illinois historian who refers to governors will be indebted to Jim Ridings. He has written a book that covers the subject of Len Small so completely that nothing more needs be said. --Tom Roeser, legendary Chicago commentator and political analyst, Oct. 15, 2009

About the Author

Jim Ridings has worked for daily newspapers in Ottawa (The Daily Times) and Aurora (The Beacon-News), Illinois, where he won several awards for investigative reporting at both newspapers. He also has written several books of local history (including Cardiff: Ghost Town On The Prairie), which have won awards from the Illinois State Historical Society and the Illinois Humanities Council (a Studs Terkel Humanities Award).

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Side Show Books, Herscher IL; First edition (August 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982408005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982408001
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mario Gomes on August 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's been a long time coming, but author Jim Ridings made it well worth the wait. What an intriguing persona was that of one named Len Small. His last name was the opposite of what greasing his palms could have achieved. He was archetypal politician who could smooze anyone into electing him into office by promises of fairness and then once elected, pull a 180 in helping criminals get released by offering parole and pardons for payola. Len Small was not a discriminating Governor. He helped gangsters and their rivals be set free with the right connections, big names such as Moran,O'Donnell and Harry Guzik, just to name a few.(Gangland armourer Peter Von Frantzius had the same motto when offering his services).

Jim Ridings takes us through the inner workings of the Len Small machine, and makes us understand what made this infamous Governor tick. Rather than just chastise Small, I can sort of understand why he did some of the things he did. Simply because he could get away with it.

The author did an excellent job on his subject and kept me interested throughout this fine read.
I shook my head in disbelief many times while reading about Small's gall and antics, but then I realised that things haven't changed at all. Today it's just kept more hush hush.

Highly recommended in understanding the connection between the gangster and the politician.

Mario Gomes
Founder of
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Format: Hardcover
This is a long overdue biographical examination of Governor Len Small, a thoroughly corrupt Illinois politician who lined his pockets with embezzled tax dollars for close to forty years. What makes the book especially valuable is that the author, Jim Ridings, a journalist, has told the story from the perspective of Downstate Illinois by focusing upon Small's hometown of Kankakee.

Small twice served as state treasurer and laundered money through a fictitious bank while skimming off profits from the high interest rates that he charged when loaning the money to meatpacking companies. Afterwards, he belatedly repaid the state treasury, but only with nominal interest added. During the Roaring Twenties, Small achieved his life's ambition by serving two scandal plagued terms as governor. While in office he had to defend civil and criminal suits related to his official misconduct while serving as treasurer. Small's main claim to fame was as "the Hard Roads Governor" who paved the state highways, but in actuality the road construction work was carefully utilized to reap political dividends for Small in the form of kickbacks and votes. Law enforcement efforts were handicapped by Small's policy of issuing paroles and pardons in return for bribes.

Many other writers have attempted to interpret the political culture in Chicago without reckoning on the fact that the city is corrupt because the entire state of Illinois has been similarly corrupt for a much longer period of time. Too many writers treat Chicago and Cook County as anomalies rather than as being part of the same fabric as the larger state. Bribery and vote fraud are not limited to the City of Big Shoulders.
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Format: Hardcover
Other states, most notably New Jersey, think they have the corner on corrupt politicians. Maybe every state thinks so, but Illinois is really trying hard to be the undisputed leader. Four governors in the last 40 years jailed (or about to be); hundreds of Illinois pols, particularly from Chicago, indicted, convicted and sent away during those years; not to mention all the mob connections, hits and misses, even recently. It's breathtaking.

Is it any wonder that the biggest crook of all, Len Small, gets missed in the fog of history? A Illinois governor in Al Capone's pocket during the 1920s who thought he was above the law is now thought of as a hero in his home town. And nobody blows the whistle, least of all the local newspaper. Did I neglect to add that Small's family owns it and many other papers in the state?

Ridings' book tells an amazing story, all the more stunning because it comes from the public record. Are Chicago Tribune columnists so busy with current crooked pols that they never look in their own morgue? Where are the sensational books about Small? My wife's family lost money in one of Small's bank swindles; thousands of other families did as well. Where's the rage?

Where are the journalists? Why is Ridings the first?
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Format: Hardcover
"Governor's and Gangsters" by Jim Ridings is a fantastic first step in the introduction of Len Small to the general public. After searching for hours, no days, I was thrilled to come upon Jim Riding's novel about the life of Lennington Small. He provides an excellent narrative on the life of Len Small from a young boy up to his time in politics while focusing on the former governor's interaction with the political machine in Chicago. At times, the author comes across as subjective as opposed to objective but it is this passion that draws the reader into the story. The complexities of the Chicago political machine cannot be explained in one book, let alone trying to include the influence it had on Len Small and Kankakee County but Ridings does an excellent job of providing enough background information to get a grasp on the corruption of the time. Overall, Ridings book is an excellent introduction into machine politics and the corruption of Kankakee County and Len Small during the early 20th century. The book does lack adequate footnotes or another form of citation but the bibliography is strong even if it is not cited throughout.
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