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The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America Hardcover – April 24, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Investigative reporter Russo (Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK) offers an impressive in-depth history of Chicago's elusive crime syndicate. Unlike their trigger-happy East Coast counterparts, Chicago's gangsters stressed businesslike discretion following the chaotic Capone era, and they had a wide-ranging impact on American culture, entertainment and politics that has never been fully documented. Russo has new sources, ranging from entertainer Steve Allen's "crime files" to the widow of the book's most memorable figure, the Outfit's financial manager, "Curly" Humphreys. Others, like Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, will be known to Mob aficionados, but even they will note Russo's novel thesis, that the lucrative scams carried out during the group's 40-year heyday involved members of the respected "upperworld." These ventures ranged from the well known, such as the gambling operations that fueled Chicago's civic corruption, to the surprising (Mob-linked dairies were the first to use "sell by" dates). The Outfit started off-track betting and Top 40 charts and, in its declining years, the Outfit's "fixer," Sidney Korshak, vetted the cast of The Godfather. According to Russo, their "respectable" partners who publicly abhorred the gangster element included Joe Kennedy, MCA president Jules Stein, Bing Crosby, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and innumerable public servants. Russo humanizes the shadowy gangsters without denying their violent proclivities. He also examines them in the context of traditional immigrant ambitions. Russo's illuminating history may disorient some readers; still, this is the book to beat in examining this midcentury criminal empire. B&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this impressive work, investigative journalist Russo (Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK) combines hundreds of his own interviews and newly revealed government files with the latest in exposes (e.g., Sally Denton and Roger Morris's The Money and the Power, on Las Vegas) to present an in-depth history of the Chicago mob from the 1920s through the 1960s. Russo shows how, during that period, "The Outfit," as it called itself, helped elect several presidents, created Las Vegas, and bankrolled Hollywood. The book is studded with revelations, such as the true story of "The Untouchables," Bing Crosby's debt to the mob, and Al Capone's surprise conviction for tax evasion. The author has no sympathy for those in political power, decrying corruption in the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. In an afterword he reveals his strong opinions on the topic, stating that white-collar criminals ("the upperworld") have been ignored at the expense of those in the "underworld" because of prejudice against Italians and the poor in general. Whether or not the reader agrees, Russo has written the most detailed book on the subject to date. Recommended for general collections. Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Illinois
  • Hardcover: 550 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (April 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341767
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.9 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For over twenty years, Gus Russo has been an investigative reporter, author of six non-fiction books, and writer and/or producer of many national and international documentaries for major networks. His books have received Book of the Month Club and History Book Club Featured Selections, three have been optioned for films, and one, "The Outfit," was a Pulitzer nominee. His October 2008 book, "Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder," was named Winner of the 2008 History Prize by the New York Book Festival. April 2011 will see the publication of his memoir, "Boomer Days."

Russo has worked an investigative reporter for PBS' Frontline series, as well as ABC News Special Reports with Peter Jennings (Dangerous World: The Kennedy Years, and JFK: Beyond Conspiracy), Dan Rather's CBS Reports, and Jack Anderson Specials; he has been a consultant for programs such as Sixty Minutes, Sixty Minutes II, and Eye To Eye with Connie Chung; as well as documentary productions based in England, France, Germany, Japan, and Mexico. Russo has appeared on countless radio and TV programs, including NPR's Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, The History Channel (numerous shows), A&E's Biography (Jack Ruby), Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC's Nachman, and Dan Rather's 1993 special Who Killed JFK? Russo has been a research consultant to numerous writers, including Seymour Hersh, Gerald Posner, Anthony Summers, and Laurence Leamer, and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The Nation, The Washington Post, Book Forum, American Heritage, The Huffington Post, and for two years was a regular contributor to the health-related website Healthlynx.com. Russo recently produced and co-wrote a documentary feature film, "Generation 9-11," for Germany's WDR and Academy Award-winning director Nigel Nobel.

In another life, Russo was a professional musician, composer, bandleader, and private instructor. In that incarnation, he played with, or in tandem with, many well-known acts including John Phillips, The New Mamas and Papas, Phoebe Snow, Michael Murphy, The Byrds, Livingston Taylor, Poco, Mary Travers (Peter, Paul and Mary), Commander Cody, and Firefall (w/ Rick Roberts). Russo the musician also wrote commercial jingles and low-budget film scores ("Basket Case," "Brain Damage," etc.)

He currently feeds his musical passions as leader of the Baltimore-based sextet, "String Theory," which features ditties by Django Reinhardt, Johnny Mercer, Dan Hicks, and Nat King Cole.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on September 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Outfit" is a well written, thoroughly comprehensive look at the post-Capone history of organized crime in the city of Chicago. Gus Russo does an excellent job of leaving no stone unturned as he chronicles the Outfit's activity from the jailing of Capone to its decline in the 90s. Along the way we meet the gangsters who made the Chicago mob rich and famous: Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca, "Curly" Humphries, Johnny Roselli,Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, and Sam "Mooney" Giancana. Russo discusses the role of each in making the Chicago Syndicate the power it was in the world of organized crime.
Russo's breezy style makes "The Outfit" an absolute joy to read, deftly mixing facts and ancedotes like a master chef. Read about the takeover of IATSE, the Hollywood union, and the infiltration of the mob into the world of the Hollywood studios; the Mob's entry and takeover of Las Vegas; the infiltration into the Teamsters and the scheming of the Outfit to fix the 1960 presidential election and what happened when they were doublecrossed. It was by no means a smooth ride - along the way Russo details the eforts of law enforcement to balance the books, so to speak, with the result that the Outfit always had to keep scheming, keep looking, for new rackets and businesses to infiltrate. Russo keeps the pages turning with a compelling style that makes the book's 550 pages seem like 100 when you hit the end.
Few books even attempt to cover the history of the Chicago Mob after Al Capone left the scene. Fewer still are this enjoyuable. A must for crime historians and those just interested in a good book.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most non-fiction books on organized crime tilt toward fiction either because writers enjoy claiming to be "in the know" about the mob or because they're subjects' activities are so murky that nobody will be able to prove or disprove what's written. Gus Russo's book will go down as one of the few scholarly works on the mob and it's well worth its length to read the whole thing.
Of particular interest is Russo's portrayal of the vast shade of gray that exists between the darkness of the mob and the alleged purity of legitimate business. Russo documents how hard it is to draw the line between where the mob ends and legit business begins. Furthermore, Russo examines the least flashy bust most powerful organized crime figures such as Murray Humphreys and Tony Accardo, two names largely unknown to the public, but of enormous American significance. This confirms what the FBI has always known -- that it's the guys who stay out of the newspapers who really run the show.
Finally, if anyone remains in America naive enough to believe that Camelot ever existed, The Outfit will dispel the Kennedy legend quickly and reveal the family for what they are: Well-polished children of a stone racketeer who had the savvy to invest his fortune in spin.
For mob watchers and American history buffs, The Outfit is a necessary, if disturbing read. It'll be hard for future mob writers to knock Russo's work off the shelf.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mark K. Mcdonough VINE VOICE on May 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is about as good as it gets in terms of criminal history. I agree with others that some of the secondary sources Russo cites are questionable (my eyes crossed when he cited the discredited "Last Testament of Lucky Luciano"), but Russo does an excellent job of placing the Outfit in historical context and telling their tale. Much previous writing on American organized crime has focused on the fractious and colorful New York families, but after you do a certain amount of reading, it begins to occur to you that the guys in Chicago seem to have a finger in every pie, but (after Capone) a knack for staying out of the papers. Russo makes the argument that the Outfit was actually much more powerful and cohesive than the New York families and had a much greater influence on American politics and culture. He convinced me.
I am also convinced by Russo's basic thesis -- that "upperworld crime" utterly dwarfs underworld crime, both in terms of dollar volume and its affect on society. For example, it would take a thousand Outfits a thousand years to steal as much money as Wall Street did during the dotcom bubble.
Thorough, well-organized, but never dry, this book will probably stand as the best work on the subject for many years to come.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer X on August 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book that I have recommended for the Pulitzer, and this book richly deserves the honor and many more to be heaped upon it.
This book is a fascinating and well researched book, but it is much more than that. It is funny, smartly written and so entertaining that the book is actually a real page turner. The book is a real eye opener to the inner workings of the Chicago mafia and their dealings with the upperworld and political figures spanning 50 years. This book is shocking! The Outfit describes in great detail the association between the mafia and Truman, Lyndon Johnson, The Kennedy's, and numerous state and federal officials.
The book also details the life of Curly Humphreys, the most important mob figure, Tony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Johnny Rosselli, Sam "Momo" Giancana, and Al Capone. The book is rich in details of their lives, it tells of all their exploits and describes their murders, rackets, and other operations. The book breaks down myths and realities regarding certain aspects of their businesses. They talk about the control of unions, the fixing of the Kennedy election, Las Vegas, and various other well known mob exploits that are often surrounded in modern day folklore.
This book is absolutely excellent and it will give you straight facts, which is the most amazing aspect. While entertaining, it is extensively researched which is the best part of the book.
I highly recommend this book, you will not be disappointed.
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