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L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 204 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307352071
ISBN-10: 0307352072
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Buntin, a crime writer for Governing magazine, chronicles the complex, interlocking lives of brutal gangster Mickey Cohen and durable police chief William Parker, telling their stories against the backdrop of Tinseltown from the 1930s to the '60s. The author adds to the mix the colorful cultural and political saga of the star-struck metropolis, a city ripe for a bitter power play between the crooks and cops, rampant with drug dens, pleasure palaces, illegal gambling and other assorted vices. The ruthlessness of Cohen, an heir to "Bugsy" Siegel, and the deadpan determination of Parker are placed in proper context with the seminal events of Prohibition, the Red scare, the federal crackdown on mobsters, and the Watts riots. Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls hell-bent on opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion-as well as a sobering look at the role of the LAPD in fomenting racial tensions in L.A. 16 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Named One of Daily Beast's "Favorite Books of 2009"

"Important and wonderfully enjoyable….A highly original and altogether splendid history that can be read for sheer pleasure and belongs on the shelf of indispensable books about America's most debated and least understood cities…..Utterly compelling reading."
Los Angeles Times

"Completely entertaining….a colorful and entirely different take on the vices of Tinseltown."
–Daily Beast

"Echoes crime stylists Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy."
American History

"L.A. NOIR is a fascinating look at the likes of Mickey Cohen and Bill Parker, the two kingpins of Los Angeles crime and police lore. John Buntin's work here is detailed and intuitive. Most of all, it's flat out entertaining."
–Michael Connelly

"A roller coaster ride....Gripping social history and a feast for aficionados of cops-and-robbers stories, both real and imagined."
Kirkus Reviews

"Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls on hell-bent opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion."
Publishers Weekly

"Reads like a novel....almost impossible to put down. Buntin has written an important and entertaining book about one of America's greatest cities in the 20th century that echoes down to the world we live in today."

"In this breathtaking dual biography of mobster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker, John Buntin confronts America's most enigmatic city.  For a half century and more, the chiaroscuro of Los Angeles, its interplay of sunshine and shadow, has inspired novelists and filmmakers alike to explore what Buntin has now explored in a tour de force of non-fiction narrative."
–Kevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, USC

"John Buntin's nonfiction cops and robbers narrative about mid-20th century Los Angeles is not only compelling reading, but a heretofore unexplored look into the LAPD and the city it tried "To Protect and Serve" during one of the most colorful and tumultuous eras in the always provocative history of the City of Angels (and badmen). Dragnet, One Adam Twelve, Police Story, LA Confidential all rolled into one captivating book. Buntin nails it in this great read.'"
–William Bratton, Chief of Police, LAPD

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307352072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307352071
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"L.A. Noir" is a fascinating study of organized crime in Los Angeles and the politics of policing it from the Twenties to the Sixties. It's an entertaining read that I found hard to put down. The book has everything: mob hits, police brutality, corruption, violence, glamor, and pathos. The author focuses on two major figures whose lives spanned this period: the gangster Micky Cohen and LAPD officer and chief Bill Parker. The two eventually became bitter enemies in a struggle for the soul of the city.

For most of the time period covered, the LAPD resembled a mercenary army, subject to being bought off or bribed by one mob faction or another. Los Angeles was a wide open city, where crime flourished and no one tried too hard to bring the Syndicate to heel. While this sometimes led to wild instability and brutal killings, at other times the mob was able to reach an accommodation with the police and city hall, known as the "Combination." For a while, the Combination controlled L.A.

Mickey Cohen was a lackluster boxer and low-life hood who rose to the top in the criminal underworld in Los Angeles. His chief strengths appear to have been absolute ruthlessness and a complete lack of fear. He stood up with almost crazy resolve, especially in the early days, to mobsters much more powerful than he was, almost daring them to kill him. His recklessness paid off. Bugsy Siegel made him his right-hand man, and when Bugsy eventually dropped out of the picture, Mickey ascended to the top spot. He had it all: wealth, power, respect, and the company of beautiful women.

But Cohen had an adversary, a nemesis in Bill Parker. Parker was an odd duck: personally incorruptible but flawed by his heavy drinking, narrow-mindedness, and fits of rage.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marketing blurbs and splash page descriptions drew me to "L.A.Noir: The Struggle For The Soul Of America's Most Seductive City" and I was both rewarded and disappointed. The rewards emerged from the meticulous research and heavily annotated background of this effort that chronicle's the struggle for law and order in Los Angeles from the 1930's to the 1990's. My disappointment resulted from the very superficial, plodding, business-like approach taken by the author. There is no soul to this book that purports to research the struggle for the soul of L.A. There is no palpable atmosphere as places and people seldom spring to life in the dull unfolding narrative. Indeed, maybe the problem lies more in the fact that the narrative is almost totally chronological rather than structured around themes and incidents.

"L.A. Noir" is essentially the story of the politics of 20th century Los Angeles and the changing role of the LAPD and its chiefs. There are two themes that do seem to thread through the book, one plainly trumpeted as the rise of William Parker to L.A. Chief of Police and Mickey Cohen's rise to mobster/celebrity status, although this theme may be plainly overdrawn in the purported "titantic struggle" between the two. The other, less identified but certainly more powerful theme was the inevitable changing demographics of the Los Angeles metropolitan area that ultimately changed the political, cultural, and social make-up of L.A. and the effect those changes had on the LAPD and the political scene.

Having lived through the last 50 years of the book, I was intrigued by remembering people or incidents from the past, expecially celebrities and crises.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Buntin is a writer for "Governing" magazine. According to Wikipedia, "it's a monthly magazine...whose subject area is state and local government in the United States. The magazine's circulation is approximately 85,000, most of whom are elected, appointed or career officials in state and local government." It's also a source as an authority for citations by the national media.

The book starts off with a bang, literally, describing the 'wild west' mentality in LA at the beginning of the century; and some of Mickey Cohen's more memorable 'rub outs'. Buntin is best when he's describes Mickey and 'The Mob', and the further back he starts the more sensational and interesting the background stories are. When he finally get's to the meat of the story, which is to be Mickey Cohen (i.e. Semi- organized Crime) and Police Chief William Parker, he begins to jumps around with dates and periods.

One of the failures of the book is that Butin is trying to write alternate chapters about one or the other main protagonists in the book, but at the time of the the major event of Parker's career (the Watts Riots) Cohen is in jail and no way involved. In fact it has nothing to do with 'organized crime' at all; most of the criminals at this point are gang based and totally disorganized.

The latter part of the book is all Parker and the 'civil rights' movement and race problems in LA, not to mention the inadequate size of the LAPD and living in the 'forties' mentality of the upper levels of the LAPD. Though Butin does put some of the blame on Parker for his inability to change with the times, he's constantly making excuses for him and tries to dump some of the blame on his successors.
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