Customer Reviews: Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster
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on August 23, 2006
When it comes to organized crime in the U.S., the talk is generally "Mafia this, Mafia that," and while La Cosa Nostra has certainly caused its share of mayhem, it's hardly fair to ignore the contribution other groups have made to the history of the American underworld. Tons of minority groups, white and otherwise--Blacks, Chinese, Russians, Armenians, Jews, and so on--have been involved in organized criminal activities to one degree or another, but as T.J. English points out in Paddy Whacked, the Irish have one distiction that can never be taken away: they got there first. English paints a vivid portrait of good old days that weren't always good, starting with the arrival of the first Irish immigrants after the potato famine of the 1840's and continuing through turbulent and violent times that saw the Irish emerge as a prominent force in the American criminal underworld as well as in American society as a whole. Paddy Whacked tells some highly unpleasant stories about Irish-American history, shedding light on inhuman poverty, ethnic and religious prejudice, violent gang wars, and large-scale political malfeasance, but that doesn't stop it from being mighty entertaining throughout, no matter what your background. If your view of the Irish is all shamrocks, leprechauns, and green beer on St. Patrick's day, this book should offer up some surprises, as much of what we associate with inner cities today (gangs, colors, drive-by shootings) had its roots at least partially in the Irish enclaves of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Starting out in Ireland, English places the history of the Irish-American gangster squarely in the larger context of Irish and American history, tracing the Irish Mob's roots all the way back to the anticolonial societies that sprung up to fight British rule in the Old Country. According to English, it was in these organizations that some of the most prominent features of the Irish gangster, and the Irish in general for that matter, were formed, from their intense togetherness to their emphasis on secrecy and mistrust of outsiders. That said, though, the focus of Paddy Whacked is still squarely on its bizarre and diverse group of outlaw protagonists and what their experiences have to show us about the history of the Irish in the U.S., from the blinding poverty of famine-era immigrants (in New Orleans, landowners used the Irish to work the worst jobs on their plantations because THEY CONSIDERED THEIR SLAVES TOO VALUABLE) to their eventual emergence as what English calls "generic white people" in the last few decades. The book describes in great detail how the Irish, starting out as a marginalized and ghettoized minority, managed to make themselves an institution in American life through constant struggle, even if many of them had to go way outside the law to get their piece of the pie. Much like American pop culture's two best-known Mafia sagas--the Godfather movies and The Sopranos--Paddy Whacked presents the story of the Irish Mob as the embodiment of the shadier side of capitalism in the U.S. Since the Irish were generally shut out of the mainstream of the American economy in their first few decades of the country, many of them had to turn to all sorts of vice--gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking, and later bootlegging and union scams--along with the creation of political machines in New York and other cities that brought with them massive amounts of corruption, in order to advance. Interestingly, although English depicts the Prohibition era as an unprecedented boom time for the Irish gangster, he also shows that time as the beginning of his end, as the Irish found themselves increasingly marginalized by a more organized (and arguably more vicious) Italian-Jewish syndicate that steadily took over the organized crime business in most cities, with ridiculous amounts of bloodshed emerging from all the inter-ethnic conflicts that resulted.

History lessons aside, the most entertaining aspect of Paddy Whacked is the way English manages to bring his subjects to life through in-depth personal profiles and detailed accounts of their criminal careers. Starting with the first impoverished street gangs in New York, the Irish Mob encompassed all sorts of characters, from early vice lords and crooked political bosses to prohibition-era rumrunners and hitmen to postwar labor racketeers to the bloodthirsty killers who left swaths of destruction in Boston and New York well into the 1980's. A lot of these guys emerge in English's telling as friendly enough types, many of them churchgoers who were generous and well-liked among their neighbors, but English doesn't soft-pedal the violence and ruthlessness that brought most of them to their positions in the first place, and he makes it clear that a few of them were just plain crazy or worse (Boston's own Whitey Bulger, especially, emerges pretty clearly as a sociopath, but if you read the previous Black Mass you already knew that). However, many of the characters English sketches in this book--bootleggers like Owney Madden, Legs Diamond, and Spike O'Donnell, early Chicago vice lord King Mike McDonald, crazed gunman Mad Dog Coll, Kansas City machine boss Tom Pendergast, and disgraced ex-New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, to name a few--still managed to embody all the psychoses, contradictions, and struggles that have marked the long and checkered but largely successful history of the Irish in the U.S. Ultimately, while English's book is concerned with the darker side of the Irish American experience, the history of the Irish Mob is still set against the backdrop of the eventual emergence of the Irish into mainstream society, even if there's still the occasional Whitey Bulger walking around to serve as a reminder that times weren't always good.
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VINE VOICEon October 12, 2010
In terms of my personal preferences, I have always been wary of true crime books that opt for a comprehensive or encyclopedic approach to any given subject. I avoided this book for a time for that reason. After finally reading it, I think my initial instincts were still on the money.

There is much to like in this book, but, in attempting to summarize the Irish American criminal experience in America from the time of the Potato Famine to the present day, the author proved himself to be overly ambitious. Trying to tackle the criminal and political history of multiple cities (Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans and New York), analyzing the Kennedy family political dynasty and its reputed ties to the underworld, plus examining the activities of Irish labor unions proved to be too much. There is enough information in "Paddywhacked" to form the basis of three or four separate books. Sometimes, less is more.

Another problem is that the author repeats many historical errors found in other books. English makes numerous misstatements about various topics due to the questionable sources that he has chosen. Relying upon a wildly inaccurate book such as Kenneth Anger's bitchy and entertaining "Hollywood Babylon" as a source for information about the Kennedys does not inspire too much confidence. That title has been properly dismissed as a supermarket tabloid.

One unintentionally funny feature of the book is that the text was not edited by a thorough proofreader. The pages are filled with numerous spelling errors. Catholics do not worship at an "alter" nor do "precinct captions" organize people into "voting blocks." A writer named English should familiarize himself with the English dictionary and language before seeking to recount the criminal activities of the Irish.

Some of the historical interpretations are similarly suspect. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was quite comfortable with accepting the support of labor union thugs and machine politicians and was less of a reformer than the author suggests. It was not irregular or unusual for Judge Samuel Seabury, a genuine reformer, to continue to be addressed by his former judicial title after leaving the bench. It is an accepted custom within the legal community. One of the wildest assertions, however, is that the New Deal ushered in an era of reform that effectively ended political corruption and graft and sounded the death knell for the Irish engaged in machine politics. Mister English clearly is not familiar with the governing class that has been mismanaging Chicago, Illinois for the past eighty years or so.

There are some terrific yarns in this book and you will not be disappointed if you do not expect too much. "Paddy Whacked" is entertaining, but not completely accurate historically.
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on February 21, 2005
Anyone who thinks they know the full story of organized crime in the U.S. is in for a surprise when they read this book. 'Paddy Whacked' starts with the Irish potato famine and comes right up to the present. The research is awesome and the writing style very witty and entertaining (I especially liked the chapter titles and sub-titles within the chapters). The book is long and in-depth with many names and events but well worth the time it takes to read. The early history in New York, New Orleans and Chicago is fascinating. The chapter on Joseph P. Kennedy and the JFK assassination was shocking to me. And I never before read anthing about the gang wars in Boston in the early 1960's that helped Whitey Bulger rise to power. Even though I've read lots of books on organized crime and was aware of many of the events in this story, they are told from a new perspective that made me think about it in an interesting way. This may be the best overview-type book ever written about the Mob in America.
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on August 30, 2005
The author, T. J. English, has done a thorough job in telling the story of gangsterdom from the 1850's into the 1980's. Chicago's Lords of the Levee, "Hinky Dink" and "Bathhouse John", and an assortment of shady characters brought on by passage of the 18th Amendment in both Chicago and New York none of whom trusted one another make up a colorful but infamous history. Of special interest to me is the telling of how Joseph Kennedy persuaded several mob members to back his son John for president even though so many of them had come to despise brother Robert due to his badgering of mob members. Sam Giancana, who Robert Kennedy chided by saying, "I thought only little girls giggled, Mr. Giancana?" was convinced to support John for president only to find that the much despised Robert was then named attorney general. The mob felt they had been doublecrossed and now they had to "cut off the head, not the tail", John, not Robert. Robert always felt responsible for his brother's assassination due to his relentless pressure on the mob. Also of special interest is the section on Frank Sheeran who tells his story of his assassination of his "best friend" Jimmy Hoffa. This is told in part from the book entitled "I Heard You Paint Houses?" Sheeran was along for the ride to keep Hoffa at ease since he felt safe knowing Sheeran was along. Hoffa failed to realize when the time for one's demise came your best friend was very likely to be involved. Sheeran justified the action by saying if he hadn't taken part Sheeran himself would be hit. There were a couple of chapters I glanced over, but the infamous history that is the mob is certainly made up of a number of diverse and pitiful characters. Even if you've read stories of many of these individuals it is interesting to see what another author has to say about them.
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on May 4, 2006
The last true crime book I enjoyed as much was, well, TJ English's The Westies. His newest chronicles the history of Irish gangsterism in America, from 18th century potato famine immigrants to Boston bad boy Whitey Bulger. TJ English takes you on a terrific ride, through several major American cities (even Kansas City--who knew the dark side of the Irish were there, too?), enlightening you to think about history in a new way, ie, maybe the Mob really did have something to do w/the assassination of JFK. Compelling, anecdotal, and informative, my only dislike about the book is that it had to end.
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on February 3, 2013
This is like an encyclopaedia of the Irish Mob and has some really interesting facts that are not found in all other mob books.
A masterpiece with an excellent cover and pictures and shows how efficient and low-profile the Irish mob was back in the days.
It would be a shame for all mob lovers NOT to have this book.
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on June 26, 2006
When I finished this book, I felt like I understood my culture better. T. J. English laid the world of the Irish American gangsters out on the pages of his book and revealed a whole section of the USA's history about which I had known virtually nothing before. This is a highly readable and exhaustively researched account of the history of gangsters in the United States and I found it fascinating even though I picked up the book never having read anything about gangsters before in my life.
English's writing reads like a thriller. When he told the story of Old Smoke Morrisey scaring off a potential duel opponent by picking butcher cleavers as his weapon of choice, I think my jaw hit the floor. And then I started reading again and didn't look up for a while. The vivid portraits English paints of the larger than life crooks that people his book stuck in my mind after I read them, so that I can probably still recite a summary of the book to anyone who's interested.
I loved it. Still, T. J. English needs to learn how to spell, and he should ditch his editor for not catching more of his typos. It really detracts from an academic work if the author doesn't appear to know the difference between "alter" and "altar" and insists on talking about "precinct captions." The editing really was terrible. However, if you can get past the typos, this is an engaging and informative book that is well worth the time it takes to read it.
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on October 25, 2005
Excellent authoritative, exhaustive study of the Irish mob in America from it's inception to present. Drawn from the bowels of poverty and the necessity to survive as immigrants in New York the brotherhood of the green rose up. English offers insight into the influence on labor parties, political officials and law enforcement who were hand in glove with the Irish gangs. Anyone interested in ganster/crime history, Irish culture or just American history will do well and be pleased to read this book.
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on March 15, 2005
And all this time I thought that the big time gangsters in this country came from Sicily. I guess that comes from the Godfather movies. Then this book said that the Most Wanted Gangster on the FBI's list was an old fashioned Irish American mob boss by the name of James Bulger.

I had to check, but sure enough on the FBI web site ([...]) you can find the ten most wanted and there he is, just below Usama Bin Laden. Not only that, but there is a $1,000,000 reward for finding him (Bin Laden is worth $27,000,000).

This is, as best I can determine the first book devoted to the Irish American gangsters that's been published. The most interesting, by far, of the people discussed in the book are the Kennedy family. Papa Joe was quite a character, a flagrant womanizer, who made his fortune by importing bootleg whiskey that he supplied to Al Capone. This also puts a different impression on Robert Kennedy's attempt to blame "the Mafia" - Italian based, as the source of organized crime in the U.S.

This is quite a book, recommended to anyone who is interested in crime history, or even the political history of the Kennedys.
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on October 14, 2005
The writer never states it baldly, but page after page contains the very essence of America. If you sometimes think if governance, from Washington down to your Mayor is just one mass of corruption, subterfuge, special interests and paybacks, is. And here are its roots. Gangsterism is as fundamental a component of the American dream as Mom's Apple Pie. Read it and weep.
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