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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great history, not great human interest
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...
Published on April 26, 2005 by D. Greenberg

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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great stories badly told.
_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...
Published on January 21, 2000 by Alexander C. Meske


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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great history, not great human interest, April 26, 2005
By 
D. Greenberg (Suwanee, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Great stories badly told., January 21, 2000
_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
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unfortunate (but colorful) chapter in American Jewish History., December 30, 2006
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. The Jews had left the Lower East Side by the 1950's, and the world of "Pretty" Amberg and Monk Eastman is long gone. Growing up, I admired gangsters. But when I asked my folks about the Jewish gangsters (rarely seen in the movies), nobody seemed to care. I guess Jews aren't proud of the Jewish gangs, any more than Italians are of Al Capone. Since Hollywood honchos like Meyer, Warner, and Goldwyn were all Jewish, they probably didn't want to draw attention to themselves with movies about gangsters named Abe and Mendy.

But maybe there is a reason why some of us admire these men. The Jewish people are often stereotyped as weak, cowardly, and timid, with an emphasis on intellect at the expense of the human body. Our history is one long parade of pogroms, expulsions, mass killings, and abuse, until 1948, when the Jews of Palestine defeated the Arab armies. It wasn't until the Israeli War of Independence that the Jews were seen as conquering heroes. Perhaps when you come from a persecuted nation, you admire those punch, kick, clobber, slash, burn, and strangle their way through life.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When Jews ruled Brooklyn: High Style and Forgotten History, February 5, 2010
Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams is Rich Cohen's novelistic shattering of a pervasive Jewish stereotype. None would call Abe Reles, Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, Louis Lepke or Red Levine suburban or academic after reading about heyday from the 20s to the 40s. Tough Jews is not actually about gangsters. Rather, it recounts an era where Brooklyn Jews looked up to some of the toughest men in the world as their own. The Italian mob, living eternal thanks to Hollywood, had a deep respect and working partnership with the Jewish gangsters well into the 1940s. Cohen's purpose is to flesh out the Jewish identity of Holocaust victims to a tougher, more menacing one of bygone machismo during the Jazz Age and pre-war years.

Some readers will take issue with the author's glorifying men of violence, but in the end most get their due--killed in the streets, imprisoned or executed by the state. Cohen clearly worships their style, the way they carried themselves fearlessly. Larry King was among those who grew up admiring the easy confidence of Jews unafraid to flaunt law. Though the stories were mostly interesting, Cohen neglects probing more deeply into the best angles. Why did the mafia stick around for so much longer than Murder Incorporated? How was Dewey able to survive any number of life-endangering criminal busts? The Jewish gangster is almost totally unknown to popular culture. Cohen does a fair job of describing the men, but fails in connecting the dots of the before-and-after in American Jewish culture.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but hardly great, May 1, 2001
By 
Dr. Alan Zaremba (Auburndale, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (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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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thought-Provoking, Enjoyable, Uneven Read, August 21, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (Hardcover)
Cohen's personalization of the subject makes the book's flaws easier to bear. I enjoyed his insights and deep emotional connection to the infamous characters whose exploits he describes.
Sometimes, Cohen's writing is just short of poetry, with beautiful passages challenging the reader to think deeply about the paradox of the Jewish Criminal. At other times, the book is so disjointed that I found myself having to reread passages to understand the transitions. I wonder about the editing process and why transitional material from section to section is so weak in an otherwise prosaic work.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this book for me, as the daughter of a "connected" Jewish mobster, and the niece of a known Jewish syndicate member, is the feeling I get that Cohen is trying to convince the reader that a tough Jew is reality. There's a disturbing bit of what seems like self-hatred in that Cohen refers several times to the Holocaust as though the slaughter of Jews was a sign of Jewish weakness. I don't agree with this in the least and find that it brings a contradictory and apologetic feel to the book.
Definitely worth a read, but I wish it had been edited better.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Close, but no cigar., July 11, 1998
This review is from: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (Hardcover)
In "Tough Jews," Rich Cohen evokes the era of Jewish gangsters with veneration and awe--his discovery of guns in his ethnic closet is so wide-eyed as to suggest Hugh Hefner's discovery of the breast. Mr. Cohen writes with great panache and verve, and his frequent references to his father's crowd and their reminiscences of gangster-era Brooklyn show a young man fascinated and reverent over an important and colorful part of his heritage. Nonetheless, it has all been said before, and said more accurately. Mr. Cohen commits a large number of genuinely silly errors that seriously diminish his work (for example, he has Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel helping Al Capone take it on the lam from Brooklyn to Chicago in 1919--a prodigious feat for a 13-year-old, since Siegel was born in 1906). Enthusiasm should not triumph over scholarship. Mr. Cohen believes Jewish gangsterdom mostly disappeared after WWII, falling victim to education, suburbanism and respectability. Evidently his writ doesn't extend to Las Vegas, where he would have encountered Moe Dalitz, Gus Greenbaum, Moe Sedway, Lefty Rosenthal and other esteemed Jews who ran the casinos for the Mormons while the Mafia took the lumps (see "The Black Book and the Mob" by Ronald A. Farrell and Carole Case). The photos are swell.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable if taken with a grain of salt., May 5, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (Hardcover)
Having lived in the section of Brooklyn where the story takes place (East New York and Brownsville) for more than twenty five years I was disturbed by Mr. Cohen's inaccuracy as to street locations. Several times he states that the hangout of Abie Reles as being on Livonia Ave. just off Pitkin Ave. These two avenues run parallel to each other and are separated by at least six other avenues. I have to wonder what other details are inaccurate. Mr. Cohen tends to forgive the gangster for the evil deeds and is very critical of law enforcement official's tactics, especially Thomas Dewey. Cohen feels Luciano was "railroaded" by Dewey. ("I'm not saying Luciano was innocent....I just don't think he was convicted for the crimes he committed; he was convicted for being considered a criminal.") With reference to a picture taken of Luciano in court. Cohen states, "Cameras understood the gangsters in a way the cops never could--the camera knew these were the brightest men in the room, shedding light as they walked." Tough Jews is an easy and somewhat enjoyable read but not to be taken as the "emmis" (Jewish for truth).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough Jews, January 10, 2005
In the early 20th century, many newly coming immigrants found work in America hoping for a better life. With these newly arriving immigrants, crime and violence was brought as well. Crime organizations formed in big cities from groups of immigrants coming together and creating gangs. These gangs committed criminal acts to make money, their sons learned from their fathers. Until the early 1920s when prohibition took an effect, criminal families had no great source of income. With this new way of earning money from bootlegging alcohol to speakeasies and such, the crime families prospered. Every ethnic gang profited from prohibition, Jews, Italians, Russians, Irish, and Asians. When Prohibition died, so did most of the criminal activity. With law enforcement growing and becoming keener to the ways of criminal families, crime organizations have become more and more secret. Today no one knows how powerful the underworld of crime is, but it still exists. Overall this book about famous gangsters was a wonderful book. If you enjoy reading about gangsters and how the made their money this book is for you.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Grandfather Is In This Book, July 29, 2005
By 
G. Fein (South Florida) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams (Hardcover)
Great book, but I only have one complaint. They have a great deal of info on my grandfather, "Dopey Benny",wrong, such as when,where, and how he died. So much for research.
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Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams
Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams by Rich Cohen (Hardcover - April 8, 1998)
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