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Pendergast! (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) Hardcover – December 31, 1997

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Missouri (December 31, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826211453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826211453
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,331,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

One of the most notorious and powerful political bosses of the interwar period, Tom Pendergast ran the politics of Kansas City, Missouri, and oversaw a considerable empire of organized vice and crime. His political machine was sometimes able even to influence state politics and started Harry Truman on his rise to the presidency. Larsen (history, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City) and Hulston (director of archives, Univ. of Kansas Medical Ctr.) have written a solid and interesting biography that also doubles as a study of Kansas City's squalid side during the Pendergast years. Pendergast was, even in full power, a target of reform efforts orchestrated by shifting coalitions of Republicans, disaffected fellow Democrats, the Kansas City Star, and federal officials, leading finally to his conviction on tax charges in 1939. This book will be of most interest regionally, but all academic collections should consider it as well.?Fritz Buckallew, Univ. of Central Oklahoma Lib., Edmond
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

This biography does little to dissipate the sensationalism surrounding its subject. Set up in the business of politics in 1890 by his eldest brother, James, Thomas J. Pendergast rose slowly but steadily to the top of the Kansas City political machine that his brother had created, eventually becoming the city's de facto ruler and a very wealthy man. While widespread rumors of drug dealing, prostitution, election fraud, and violence plagued his career as a powerbroker--a career spent largely behind the scenes, and not in elective office--historian Larsen (Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City) and archivist Hulston (Univ. of Kansas Medical Center) do little more than repeat these rumors, seemingly unable to either substantiate or eliminate them. Indeed, the only wrongdoing on Pendergast's part of which the authors seem positive is the income-tax evasion for which he was convicted and sent to Leavenworth in 1939. Frequently compared to Al Capone (also at Leavenworth for tax evasion), Pendergast did not linger in jail; he spent only 12 months of a 15-month sentence behind bars. This sentence was blasted as too lenient by a press that had turned against ``the Boss'' of ``Tom's Town,'' as Kansas City had come to be called. He died in 1945 alone and nearly broke; his wife had finally left him, and his money had gone to pay government fines and his endless gambling debts. His greatest legacy is, supposedly, to have fixed the election that put haberdasher (and loyal Pendergast supporter) Harry Truman in his first public office and on a trajectory to the White House. Those unfamiliar with Pendergast will likely find parallels with Richard Daley's Chicago and Boss Tweed's Tammany Hall. Unfortunately, while the subject is an interesting and important one, Larsen and Hulston seem to have little to offer but recycled rumor and innuendo. (30 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Format: Hardcover
I graduated from the University of Missouri, Kansas City in May 2001 and Dr. Larsen was my head adviser on my Master's thesis. I chose him for being the most published professor in the Department of History.

Pendergast is a true page turner, while at the same time the book maintains its academic credentials with meticulous footnotes referencing the best primary source material available. Dr. Larsen is no slouch, and this book lives up to his high standards.

Jim and Tom Pendergast were working class, Irish American, "goat" Democrats, who represented the interests of the poor and politically unconnected. Pendergast concrete built downtown KC, and the political machine employed men in a time before unemployment compensation, workers compensation, welfare, Social Security or any of the programs of the New Deal. However, Pendergast thugs ran heroin, prostitution, gambling, illegal hooch and practically every other vice. Kansas City in the 1930s was a hotbed of crime but also of religious and racial tolerance, senseless violence but also cultural mixing, machine gun blasts but also brilliant jazz (Lester Young, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, etc.). The city itself was compared to Calcutta & Shanghai, and Pendergast's KC created a sleazy example to be perfected later by Las Vegas.

Inevitably the forces of progress halted Pendergast. The IRS busted him for tax evasion in 1939. There was no longer room in America for Pendergast in the age of Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal. However, Pendergast's mixed legacy made Kansas City the most swinging and interesting city in America for a time, which the city has never quite seen again, as it fell back into the Protestant, Midwestern fold.

Just read the book. It's outstanding.
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Format: Hardcover
Pendergast" by Lawrence Larsen is a fantastic biography of the larger than life political boss of Kansas City during the early part of the 20th century. Larsen is the perfect candidate to write this book given his position as History professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This book is as much about the municipality of Kansas City as the it is the life of Pendergast. In fact, the two stories are tightly bound together. K.C. was known as "Tom's town", and as Larsen shows, this was for a very good reason. He lorded over K.C. and Missouri politics at the state level and many men produced by his political machine were sent to Washington upon the election of FDR in 1932. The most prominent product of Boss Tom's machine was Harry Truman who went on to succeed FDR as President. Indeed, Boss Tom's influence went far and wide and he ruled over his kingdom in a way that led Truman to compare Pendergast to Joseph Stalin.

David McCullough's book on Truman has a lot about Pendergast; it would be a good selection for anyone interested in this book. The contrast between the straight and narrow Truman and the notorious machine boss is a great study in American politics. It seems a very unlikely pairing, yet it worked and worked well for decades. In many ways, Truman owed his political career to Pendergast after Boss Tom selected the future president to run for Jackson County judge during the early 1920's. Many thought Truman to be "incorruptible", yet his role as squeaky clean front man for the crime ridden K.C. system says a lot about what went on during the period around Prohibition in many American cities.

Pendergast's career is a great look at how a political boss is created.
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