on May 6, 1998
While attending a Chicago Cubs baseball game in the spring of Depression-deepening 1930, President Herbert Hoover was viciously booed by fellow fans. A "used furniture dealer" was also in attendance that day. The same crowd lustily cheered him. His name was Alphonse Capone.
Illuminating anecdotes like this make Robert J. Schoenberg's "Mr. Capone," an exhaustively researched and finely detailed record of an unlikely icon in modern U.S. history, a welcome read. Most books on organized crime bounce around the extremes of "Godfather-like" mystical adoration, gloomy conspiratorial hype or shrill partisan muckraking. Schoenberg's account, rejecting these worn approaches, is a refreshing, fascinating chronicle of a powerful person who, in his own way, played a key role in the development and direction of 20th century urban America.
One of the first "leaders" to make effective use of the news media to influence public opinion, Brooklyn-born Capone and his brainchild--the turbulent, uniquely multiethnic Chicago "Outfit" (as the Mafia was termed there) reflected the radical changes the U.S. was undergoing in the postwar 1920s. Among these were its complex and contradictory ethics and morals, its violence and carefree hedonism, its strenuous attempt to assimilate and reconcile multiple ethnic groups newly arrived to these shores, a deep hunger for material "success" and social "respectability" as well as the swiftly emerging predominance of the now-familiar urban environment. All of it in the spirit of Capone's curious but favorite and oft-quoted phrase; "We don't want any trouble."
However, the "trouble" that "Scarface Al" seemingly so much wanted to avoid became his own epitaph and remains a hallmark of an era that still heavily influences our society to this day. All of the popular stereotypes aside, it is the strength of "Mr. Capone" that it reminds us that the negative and lurid as well as the positive and uplifting all play a somehow vitally necessary, if often quite misunderstood, role in the continually-unfolding American experience.
on August 3, 2001
This is THE definitive biography of the world's most famous gangster. The book is exceptionally well-written, able to satisfy anyone from a casual layman to an organized crime expert. Schoenberg walks us through Capone's life, showing us why he did what he did and avoiding getting caught up in the usual myths surrounding him. The author's notes at the end of the book are extremely helpful. Most of all, Schoenberg gets almost all the dates and facts right when dealing with the events surrouning Capone's life. While I personally disagree with his take on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, he presents this event and others like it in such a precise manner one cannot help but say positive things. Anybody seeking information about Al Capone should look no further than Mr. Capone. A few other books about him have been published in the last ten years, specifically one by Laurence Bergreen, which is a far worse book and yet has received more publicity the Schoenberg's opus. All others should be ignored. Mr. Capone is the best book ever written about Al Capone.
on October 12, 2000
Robert Schoenberg really did a masterful job. The way the author describes the Capone-era is breathtaking and I was pleased that he also focusses on Capone's rivals and mentor(s). Besides the enormous amount of research he did I was particularly impressed with his writing skills. His fluent and accurate style, the humour he puts into the text is simply fantastic. That's how the book earns its five stars. You read a story, not a series of facts. Schoenberg is very careful not to add to much superfluous information, something many biographers might learn from. I would say it's hard to put down, but I forced myself occasionally...so that I have something to look really forward to the following day.
on October 14, 2011
Politics, freedom, and workforce were just a few on the aspects of the American lifestyle that were directly impacted by the rise of gangs and mobsters in the early 1900's. In Mr. Capone: The Real and Complete Story of Al Capone, author Robert J. Schoenberg magnified for the reader the way that everyday life in America changed between the early 1900's and the 1920's with the introduction of the prohibition era, then beyond into the mid 1900's; even something as insignificant as the soda fountain was influenced by the alterations that took place.
Schoenberg's rendition of Capone's biography was not only an elaborate chronology of his life, but also included information about the changes taking place in the government, developments in technology such as automobiles and machinery, and also offered insight to the social dynamic of the United States during a time when immigrants were coming to America in great numbers. At times, it seemed as if the book was not a biography of Capone at all, but rather a vividly written textbook of the time period. It detailed all of Capone's criminal history dating back to his days as a member of the Forty Thieves gang (pg 27). The author told the story of Al Capone's life, and also gave enough information about famous historical events to make the connection to previous knowledge of American history quite effortless. On page 99, he wrote about Charles Trilling and his perspective of Capone, noting that he believed "that Capone could make good." This is just one of the many times that Schoenberg used other gangsters to show Capone through various perspectives. Considering the ninety-two pages of notes and six-page bibliography presented by the author, it's safe to say that Schoenberg's writing was both factual and well researched. The author's incorporation of politics, social history, backgrounds of characters and insight to the lifestyles of said characters, he did not focus much on emphasizing key points of Capone's story; it seemed as though he was more focused on providing every last detail than he was on giving readers a clear understanding of which information was important, thus leaving it up to the reader to decide. Although Schoenberg isn't an author of many books, the few that he has written have been hits among all scores of people: professors and historians to curious young students. That being said, it has been difficult to determine whether or not the author was biased toward any particular side or promote a certain concept. However, the content of the book seemed very unbiased and remained consistently accurate, offering viewpoints and modes of thought from various individuals included in the presentation of Capone's life. He even noted that Forest View, a town in Illinois that became known as "Caponeville" after he took over the organized crime scene.
While it was wonderful to have information about things going on in America during Capone's rise and fall in power, perhaps the only negative critique of Mr. Capone is that the amount of information given regarding the lives of other mobsters and people that were associated with Capone was a bit extensive. Having knowledge of the people as a way of making reference to them, their positions, and the influence they had on Capone was terrifically beneficial, but the author seemed to stray away from the fact that the biography was of Al Capone, and not one of his colleagues. It was intriguing to learn that Joseph L. Howard's killing was possibly the most important that Capone ever made (pg 133), and that Capone would repeatedly disappear for months at a time to escape prosecution of any crimes he committed and left the others to take blame, which indeed expanded my knowledge and understanding of the era as well as the circumstances each person was living under, thus providing excellent imagery, but did not contribute to my knowledge of Al Capone.
Overall, I enjoyed Mr. Capone: The Real and Complete Story of Al Capone. The author effectively provided enough information about Capone's life, beliefs, background and motives to make it easy for myself to understand why he chose to live the way that he did and how he managed to maintain such a style of living. I was fascinated by the way that he managed to escape conviction of any crime he ever committed as well as the way he managed to maintain such great power for a long period of time so seemingly effortlessly. I would recommend this book, but only with a warning to potential readers that it is one of the only biographies I have ever read with such great amounts of information that will probably never benefit me in any way.
on August 18, 1998
I really enjoyed this book.I enjoyed it so much, i read it three times!Blows the pants off the other books which are loaded with fiction.He also gets his dates right which to me is very important.I being an Al Capone collecting enthusiast find it much better than Mr.Bergreen's book. If you want a book on Capone and you want the facts straight get this book now!!!!!
on July 24, 2012
To really understand a person, you not only have to examine their actions, but their circumstances, and the context in which their actions affected others. Robert Schoenberg does an excellent job of taking the reader back to the prohibition and great depression era, when mob rule was the solution to supply a demand that the government wished not only to control, but to eliminate completely. Schoenberg does an excellent job of explaining why Al Capone became the mafioso that everyone remembers him as, and thus shows us sides of Al Capone that we the public are not accustomed to.
I found the text to be quite readable, but rich enough with details to describe the setting and actions vividly. Schoenberg refuses to eliminate certain details that are key to the events, and in turn builds up a huge story of how this Brooklyn-born gangster sought to pursue the American dream and began doing so in Chicago, to the point where Capone's ordeal with tax evasion landed him in legal trouble and in the famed Alcatraz prison, and finally to Capone's struggle with syphilis and his death that followed. Schoenberg explains Capone's family and even his ethnic background, and how Capone's parents' class shaped and molded the way Capone thought, lived, and dealt with people, as he was truly the product of an environment where corruption and greed thrived.
The author also shows us that it was not primarily syphilis or tax evasion that brought Capone down, but the rampant images associated with Capone that made him into an infamous celebrity. By the end of the book, I felt that I really got to know Mr. Capone.
Schoenberg's research on Capone might be the greatest one published for the average reader like myself to enjoy. With clear, organized, and accessible language, Schoenberg takes you through a journey filled with murder, corruption, happiness, love, and greed, to shed light on who this mobster 70-90 years ago really was. I'd give this book an A+, as it supersedes any other text on the famed mafioso.
on September 10, 2010
The first few chapters drag as the author sets up the background to the history of the area and era, to show how the climate and local gangs were in place for Al to come into his future profession. I guess that's necessary, but the reader is waiting for Al to enter the text and then that's when it becomes interesting. One learns that prohibition was the main driving force for the rise of these gangsters, and the profits that were to be made making and distributing illegal booze. It's amazing the control that he had in his era among all walks of life and industry, and his celebrity that was later his downfall. One almost feels sorry for him in his later years when he could not be outside in pubic without being arrested on the spot by police that had orders to arrest him on sight, and also with his health problems. But, then you find that orders are still being given to remove a troublemaker and you realize this is a coldhearted killer and that he brought this on himself. The author did have a conflict in his age at his death, in which he said was 48 when he died, but Al's tombstone and the author's own notes give his birthdate and death date as 58. That's a pretty big conflict in a book on the life of a person, which I assume must have been researched throughly. I thought there should have been a little more about the time he dined three of his men who had turned on him, and then beat them senseless with a baseball bat and then had them shot at the table, as I had read of this in a bit more detail in another source. All in all, a great book on the life and times of Al Capone
on September 16, 2009
I have read three Al Capone biographies and this one is the best of the three. Although Lawrence Bergreen's book gets a bit more into the private life and Capone and his cronies, it also dwells too much on members of his family, especially James "2 Gun Hart" Capone. Bergreen's book is very well done, but i want more of Big Al and the Chicago Outfit his leadership spawned and Robert Schoenberg's book is the best of the bunch. I give it a slight but definite edge over Bergreen's book, and a this is a much better book then John Kobler's biography. This book is almost like a pulp fiction page turner, full of bloody beer wars, gang intrigues, and of course the overwhelming presence of The Big Guy himself and the seminal role he played in coming out on top of the underworld in Chicago, destroying or forcing into irrelevance the other prohibition gangs in Chicago, and being the founding father of the Chicago Outfit, which exists to this day as a powerful underworld force in the midwest. That Capone was able to defeat and destroy those forces arrayed against him and organize such a massive empire of crime, says much indeed for his intelligence, luck, and organizational ability, as well as his willingness to strike harder and faster then others with devastating results on his opposition. Robert Schoenberg's book tells this story best of all, and is the best page turner of all the Capone books. It was also nice for me that it did not dwell too heavily on Capone's years in prison and his precipitate physical decline, as Bergreen's book does in great detail. I prefer to read of The Big Guy on the rise and on top, then in jail and in decline. So although both books are very good this one is my favorite, and for pure Al Capone, gang war, prohibition age crime buffs this is very thrilling reading indeed. Very well done and very highly recommended.
on March 15, 2013
I can not add to the other 5 star reviews other than to say that I have read all the credible Capone books and this is the best of the best. Kobler's book is a close second but this is the one to have. I doubt that there will ever be another book to top this- add to and enhance?-yes, but not top.