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Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams Paperback – April 20, 1999

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Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams + But He Was Good to His Mother : The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters + Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (April 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705472
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When we think gangster, hood, or wiseguy, we often associate these characters with such names as Capone, Luciano, or even Corleone. However, when organized crime reared its ugly head in the late 1920s in Brooklyn, at the foundation were men like Meyer Lansky and Ben Siegel--both Jews. Rich Cohen's romantic account of Jewish gangsters, Tough Jews, brings to life the story of Jewish involvement in the world of organized crime.

Cohen persuasively achieves his objective by recounting the stories he heard from his father, who grew up with his friends (including broadcaster Larry King) at the end of the gangster era in Brooklyn, finding heroes in men like "Kid Twist" Reles and Bugsy Goldstein. The intriguing tales Cohen heard, although slightly embellished over time, offer a rare glimpse into a world that can barely be related to today's generation of Jews living in America. These Jews went to prison for committing violent felonies, not white-collar crimes, and got the chair for it. Inspired by their stories, Cohen went on to conduct extensive research through old journals, police records, and court reports to uncover the real stories behind the tales he heard as a boy.

Cohen warmly discusses his father's fascination with these powerful, charismatic figures, and openly envies his experiences at a time before Jewish people lived under the debilitating shadow of the Holocaust. In addition, Cohen shows compassion for the need of his father's generation to look up to "someone who gives them the illusion of strength." --Jeremy Storey --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Journalist Cohen on Jewish organized crime in 20th-century America.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I can't say enought about this book....READ IT!!
Rodger Rosenberg
I really enjoyed reading Rich Cohen's book on the Jewish Mob members, especially having it framed by his father's friends and their lunches at Nate & Al's.
Charles Freericks
This book rambles often from a straightforward narrative, and it also is too infused with the author's personal bias and views.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D. Greenberg on April 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
The book does what the title implies. It sheds light on an often neglected aspect of the Jewish-American immigrant story and shows early 20th century mobster culture was much more inclusive than it is often portrayed.

The author tries to create the background by paying homageto his dad and his friends (great pictures of a young Larry King with normal shoulders), law abiding aggressive business men who grew up with the legends of Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky, emulating them like kids playing army. But in the end, the metaphor falls flat. The gangsters had no more impact on how their lives turned out than did their Brooklyn Dodger heroes.

The writing style often diverges into a very personal, chatty conversational style, an off-stage commentary on the historical goings-on. A little too colloquial for the subject matter, the asides were like a fleeting stomach ache amidst a great meal.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Alexander C. Meske on January 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
_Tough_Jews_, an apocryphal account of the Jewish gangsters based in Brooklyn in the 20's and 30's is an entertaining piece of light reading and a fascinating glimpse into the rationalization process.
This could best be described as a cathartic history of Jewish gangsters. Cohen's frequent fawning over the Brooklyn mob of old, to tell you the truth, could be quite ridiculous. His adulation of Murder Inc. often spilled over into out and out hero worship. The author's frequent rationalizations for his adoration, however, are rather interesting for understanding the glamour of current-day gangs in poor neighborhoods.
I completely fail to understand the reason for the last chapter, which boils down the author telling the reader, "My dad can beat up your dad," and, "I know Larry King." The even less substantive epilogue does nothing aside from defend the validity of the work.
However, despite the scattershot, intrusive method of the author, the stories do themselves justice. The characters, history and anecdotes of the gangsters were a fun, light read.
This book is not designed for any significantly deep understanding of either criminals or criminology. I suppose it could be best described as a combination of "Dick and Jane" primer to the true crime genre and a bizarre, misguided attempt at inspirational literature for people not happy about being Jewish. I recommend either buying it in paperback form or just borrowing it from the library, as it is worth one read, but no more.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By B. Wolinsky on December 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tough Jews is a book about Jewish gangsters, and how they pretty much faded after World War II. It leaves the reader to wonder exactly what created this phenomena and why it died out. The criminals whose stories Cohen tells, like Bugsy Siegel, Lepke Buchalter, Meyer Lansky, Kid Twist, Joe Amberg, were all products of harsh years. In this day and age, Jewish boys go to college. In the 20's and 30's it was much harder for Jews to go to college and have careers. It seems as though bootlegging and loan-sharking were a more attractive alternative to the rag trade. It seems as though Meyer Lansky slipped into crime because of a lack of opportunity, not necessarily greed. When his son said he wanted to be a gangster, Lansky replied "why would you want to do that when you can go to college!" With World War II, the GI Bill gave Jews the chance to go to college, and become doctors, lawyers, accountants, and....oh well, you know the rest!

It wasn't just poor opportunities that fostered the Jewish gangsters. Monk Eastman and Bugsy Siegel had emotional problems. Did Eastman have ADHD? His habits appear to be symptoms. Bugsy Siegel, a prolific rapist, had several characteristics that I see in kids in Special Ed. Shonder Burns, a Jewish Cleveland gangster (not mentioned in this book) may also have had "special" problems, along with an abusive childhood in Jewish orphanages. The Purple Gang of Detroit (also not mentioned) were a sick bunch. It's kind of hard to admire people like this. Then again, there was no Ritalin or Special Ed in those days, so a kid who couldn't do well in school was out of luck.

Cohen himself idolizes the Jewish gangsters, yet he admits that their world is gone.
Read more ›
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Alan Zaremba on May 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Rich Cohen writes well at times. However, this book is not well edited. It's difficult to keep the gangsters straight. Too many of them surface and then disappear only to reappear fifty pages later. Even the main characters like Kid Twist and Buggsy Goldstein are not clearly delineated until the end.
Another problem with the book is that Cohen attempts to condone the behavior of the gangsters as if their actions were not inappropriate given their plight. He suggests that as immigrants evolve from outsiders into mainstream citizens they, inevitably, are required to become criminals. I like to think I'm a tough Jew, and my dad sure is, as was his father. When confronted with injustice my grandfather used to say, "By me, they wouldn't get away with it." And the "they" didn't. Yet both my grandfather, and dad would/consider the behavior of criminals unconscionable. I'm not sure that cutting up people makes one tough. Making it without succumbing to inhumane behavior, fighting the corrupt successfully when you don't have a knife in your hands, that makes one tough.
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