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Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series Hardcover – August 25, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writing a biography of the notoriously secretive Arnold Rothstein, a rum-and-drug-running, bookmaking loan shark who became one of the richest men in the world, is a gamble that, for the most part, pays off for Pietrusza (Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis). After a brief look at Rothstein's Jewish upbringing, Pietrusza concentrates mostly on his "business" interests and does an especially fine job of analyzing the involvement of the "Great Brain," as Rothstein was known, in fixing the 1919 World Series. Quick to point out that the fix "was not the perfect crime," the author tracks down almost every lead associated with what is still one of America's most astonishing crimes thanks to how the caper was played out in the public eye. Strong investigative journalism helps Pietrusza make sense of the complex back stories of Rothstein's fathering of the American drug trade and the gambling debt that led to his murder. While seeking to expose the truth behind Rothstein's dealings and death, the author sweeps readers are into the seedy world of Tammany Hall politics, violent mobsters, dirty cops and paid-off judges. While many of these side stories prove worthwhile entertainment, the vast amounts of information needed to explain them allows the reader only glimpses of Rothstein's true personality. Still, while some readers may clamor for a more intimate portrait of the subject, Pietrusza persuades in his assertion that Rothstein really had only one true emotion: greed.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

If the name Arnold Rothstein is recognized today, it's as the man who fixed the 1919 World Series (Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby). But the Black Sox scandal was only one item on Rothstein's resume. In this scrupulously sourced biography, Pietrusza portrays the quintessential Jazz Age gambler and underworld kingpin as the black sheep in his Orthodox Jewish family. Enraged by his brother's piety, Rothstein vowed to go a different way. That he did, earning the nickname "the Big Bankroll" for his involvement not just in sports betting but also in labor racketeering, rum-running, Wall Street shenanigans, and even the beginnings of the drug trade. Pietrusza's prose is a bit clunky, but he's saved by his compelling subject matter and by the hundreds of cameos from some of the Roaring Twenties' biggest names: Dempsey, Runyon, Luciano, et al. The question of who killed Rothstein is investigated thoroughly, but fascination with that case has dimmed over the years. Not so Rothstein's life, which remains as intriguing as it was when he occupied his corner table at Lindy's. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf; First Edition edition (August 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786712503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786712502
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Called one "of the best historians in the United States," "one of the great political historians of all time," and "the undisputed champion of chronicling American Presidential campaigns." David Pietrusza has produced a number of critically-acclaimed works concerning 20th century American history. Critics have compared his work to that of Eric Larson, H. L. Mencken, Theodore H. White, Edmund Morris, H. R. Brands, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

His forthcoming "1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR: Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal, and Unlikely Destiny" (starred review-Kirkus) is nominated for the American Library Association (ALA)'s Notable Books Council's 2015 Notable Books List.

His "1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America," a study of the dramatic 1948 presidential campaign, is a selection of the History Book Club, the Book-of-the-Month Club, and the Literary Guild.

ForeWord Magazine designated his book "1960: LBJ vs JFK vs Nixon: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies" as among the best political biographies. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro has termed "1960" "terrific."

Pietrusza's "1920: The Year of the Six Presidents" received a Kirkus starred review, was honored as a Kirkus "Best Books of 2007" title, and was named an alternate selection of the History Book Club. Historian Richard Norton Smith has listed "1920: The Year of the Six Presidents" as being among the best studies of presidential campaigns.

Pietrusza's biography of Arnold Rothstein entitled "Rothstein: The Life, Times & Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series" was a finalist for the 2003 Edgar Award. Rothstein's audio version won an AUDIOFILE Earphones Award.

Pietrusza has edited three volumes on the career and works of Calvin Coolidge: "Silent Cal's Almanack: The Homespun Wit & Wisdom of Vermont's Calvin Coolidge," "Calvin Coolidge: A Documentary Biography," and "Coolidge on the Founders: Calvin Coolidge on the American Revolution & the Founding Fathers." Says Amity Shlaes: "an authority on the 1920s and [Calvin] Coolidge . . . David Pietrusza has brought Coolidge back to life with his volumes about the president . . ."

Pietrusza's "Judge and Jury, his biography of baseball's first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis," received the 1998 CASEY Award and was also a Finalist for the 1998 Seymour Medal and nominated for the NASSH Book Award.

Pietrusza collaborated with baseball legend Ted Williams on an autobiography called "Ted Williams: My Life in Pictures."

His books have been utilized as texts by such colleges as George Washington University, the City University of New York, the University at Buffalo, Baylor University, Bellevue College, the University of Illinois, the University of San Francisco, and Portland State College. "1920" has been part of the syllabus for the course "Congress, The Presidency & 21st Century Media" offered by C-SPAN, The Cable Center and the University of Denver. His talk on "Silent Cal's Almanack" is included in the curriculum for the C-SPAN Classroom initiative.

Pietrusza served as president (1993-97) of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and as editor-in-chief of the publishing company Total Sports.

He has been interviewed on NPR, MSNBC, C-SPAN (including "The Contenders" and "First Ladies: Influence & Image"), C-SPAN Book TV (including "In Depth"), C-SPAN American History TV, ESPN, the Fox News Channel, the History Channel ("The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents"), EBRU-TV, GBTV, the Voice of America, "Secrets of New York," and the Fox Sports Channel. He has produced and written the PBS-affiliate documentary, "Local Heroes." He has served as a regular panelist for Live.

An internationally recognized expert on American presidential elections, he has been interviewed by Le Figaro, Le Monde, Radio-France, Radio-France International, Greece's To Vima, and Denmark's Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten.

Pietrusza holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University at Albany and has served on the City Council in Amsterdam, New York. He has served as public information officer for both the NYS Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform and the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General.

Pietrusza is the Recipient of the 2011 Excellence in Arts & Letters Award of the Alumni Association of the University at Albany and a member of the initial induction class of the Greater Amsterdam (NY) School District Hall of Fame.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Stuart W. Mirsky on September 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The life and times of the early twentieth century gangster, gambler and "fixer," Arnold Rothstein, this book takes us back to an era when gambling was still king in the newly consolidated city of Greater New York (created out of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as the townships that filled Queens and Staten Island in 1898). Rothstein came of age within this milieu, a man of vision and immense skill with numbers, as well as a remarkably huge moral blindspot. But in this last he was not alone as he existed in an environment of amoral excess, a time when politics in the city was characterized by widespread Tammany Hall corruption and dominance and when the police chiefs of the period were also numbered among the crime lords, running or sharing in the proceeds of gambling halls and houses of prostitution.

Round about 1914, with the murder of one of Rothstein's gambler cronies by a high police official who was notoriously brutal and crooked, the situation changed and reform politics took hold. This drove gambling and prostitution into the shadows though, inevitably, they didn't just disappear. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the shrewd gambling maven, Rothstein, altered his operations, moving some of his gambling business out to Long Island and bankrolling floating games (which demanded less police collaboration in order to remain in operation) in Manhattan itself.

With the advent of World War I, followed by Prohibition, Arnold Rothstein saw new prospects and began backing bootleggers, giving the start to famous gangland kingpins like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Rothstein, however, managed to always keep himself behind the scenes, the go-to guy for police and politician fixing, and for financing new crime ventures.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Konrad Baumeister on August 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
Tackling the biography is Arnold Rothstein is not like undertaking to deal with the life of most equally known men of even the same time. Rothstein was covered, as can be seen in the bibliography, in hundreds if not thousands of articles of the time in newspapers, magazines, books, and legends. The problem is not lack of words written, but lack of actual knowledge of the subject. Simply put, much of what has been written is legendary, apocryphal, repetitive, speculative or downright false, and it must have been an overwhelming task to wade through the junk to find the goods. Pietruszka has done as good a job of it as likely can be done at this remove.

Further complicating the task is the personality of the subject, in this case a man who was clearly highly intelligent, charismatic, and industrious, but was missing some kind of chip to his personal makeup that would have made him fully human. Judging from the book, AR loved the multiplication of money in any way possible, judging everything and everyone useful or not useful based strictly upon the expected financial return. Associates passed in and out of his life and he had no compunction about lying to them or ripping them off or leaving them hanging out to dry, to take whatever heat might come down in his wake, and he'd pick them back up again if there was money to be made with no personal feelings entering into it. It must have been hard to resist his charismatic pull, but harder to actually like the man.

Before reading this book I had known a little about Rothstein, mostly from the gambling/World Series angle. I had been unaware of his deep involvement in drugs and similar financial adventures.
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Most people believe that Charles Lucky Luciano is the father of organized crime in this country. When you read Rothstein, you just might come to a different conclusion. This book is a page turner. If you want a real feel for what it was like to live at the turn of the 20th century and right on up through the Roaring 20's, this is the book that will give you a vivid description of the period, the feel, the restaurants, the lifestyle, the corruption, and the seduction.

Here's what I loved about the book:

* Rothstein is enshrouded with intrigue and surprises. A man this powerful and he travels with $50,000 in cash sometimes, and never a bodyguard. What am I missing?

* He fixes the 1919 World Series, and is the only one to walk away with an enhanced reputation. The police, the prosecutors and the Feds can't seem to touch him, or are they on the same side - you decide?

* Is he an evil genius, or just lucky? As he says, "I only bet on sure things?"

* He shoots 2 policemen or did he, and then fixes his own trial - what chutzpah?

* He likes boxing, and so maybe he fixes the Jack Dempsey - Gene Tunney championship fight? The story is all here, in every tantalizing detail.

* He had showgirls by the dozens, and betting parlors to match, not just here but in different cities, but New York was his town.

* He was known to politicians, high society, and even the common man through the newspapers as "The Big Bankroll, The Brain, and The Man Uptown".

* You will meet the major players of the age that Rothstein was a part of. You will meet such luminaries as Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the gambler Nicky Arnstein, and John McGraw the baseball aficionado.
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