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Thomas E. Dewey and His Times Hardcover – July, 1982

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 703 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (July 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067141741X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671417413
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas E. Dewey, unfortunately, is probably best remembered by most Americans as the little fellow who lost the 1948 Presidential election to Harry S. Truman in one of the greatest upsets in American history. But thanks to the work of Richard Norton Smith, we can now see Dewey for what he really was - a crusading, crime-busting district attorney; perhaps the best governor New York State ever had; and the man who "modernized" the Republican Party and allowed it to survive through the Depression years and the 1940's. Dewey grew up in a small town in Michigan (his father owned and published the local newspaper), and his rise to fame and fortune came remarkably fast. A compulsive workaholic and "neat freak", Dewey graduated from the University of Michigan and Columbia University Law School in the 1920's. He briefly considered a career as a singer - he had an award-winning baritone voice and liked to sing Broadway tunes in his bathtub - but decided that the law would be a more stable and suitable career. In 1928, he married a stage actress and started a promising legal career in New York City (although he never really liked the Big Apple, and in 1939 he bought a large farm 65 miles north of Manhattan and happily became a weekend farmer and country squire).

In 1933 Dewey, only 31, became a federal and then special prosecutor in New York City and sent several gangsters to prison. In 1937 he was elected District Attorney for Manhattan, and he soon achieved national fame as the "gangbuster" - the honest lawyer who sent dozens of famous mafia leaders to jail. His most famous target was "Lucky" Luciano, the mafia boss of all New York and who was even more powerful than Al Capone.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas E. Dewey, the epitome of Manhattan Avenue politics to conservative Republicans, was himself born and bred further west than the venerable Robert Taft himself. A product of Owosso, Michigan, Dewey attended the University of Michigan, studying literature and law, all the while pursuing a career as a professional singer. It was music that brought him to New York, one of many surprises unveiled in Richard Norton Smith's biography of one of America's most prolific political campaigners.
Dewey was a capable enough performer that in 1924 he was booked for a solo performance in the cultural heart of America. In the audience was the noted music critic Deems Taylor. Taylor commented upon what he perceived as Dewey's contrived emotional stage effects, but this flaw was dwarfed by a more essential one: suffering from laryngitis, Dewey's voice totally shut down halfway through the program. A thoroughly mortified Dewey was forced to take stock of his career, and as a second choice he decided to pursue a law degree. Columbia University of the 1920's enjoyed a plethora of great legal minds, and even the frustrated singer came to develop a passion for law and the potential theatrics of the courtroom.
Dewey's rapid ascent through the law profession was abetted by two factors: his labors on behalf of New York City's struggling Republican party, and the patronage of George Z. Medalie, who would become Dewey's legal and political rabbi. Medalie, a major character in this treatment, enjoyed a thriving private law practice, but he was drafted for one of the city's frequent, and usually unsuccessful, forays against organized crime, which literally held New York in a stranglehold in the 1920's and 1930's.
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Format: Paperback
(It says Paperback, but I actually read the hard cover edition. Published by Simon and Schuster, 643 pages plus endnotes and index.)

This is a terrific biography (it was as a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize) about a sadly all-too-forgotten great American. As a New Yorker by birth and being old enough, some of the achievements of Thomas E. Dewey are familiar to me. Realistically, though, I would imagine that Dewey is largely unknown and of no consequence to most Americans today. In spite of, or perhaps because of these realities, Richard Norton Smith does a great job conveying the unique and exceptional man that Dewey was. It is amazing to read about his meteoric rise as a prosecuting attorney who was able to bring down the New York City mob and Tammany Hall leadership. Consider that when he was just 38 years old, he held the lead in the first three ballots at the 1940 Republican National Convention.

While his unsuccessful runs for President receive due attention, Smith avoids overshadowing Dewey's great achievements for our nation. His three terms as governor of New York (1943-1954) are covered quite fully and point to his characteristic of a man of great conviction. He is clearly a socially progressive and fiscally conservative Republican as his administrations in New York demonstrate quite fully. Faced with a conservative Republican state legislature, he forced through a fair redistricting law, a strong anti-discrimination civil rights law, established the State University of New York, and succeeded in bringing about the construction of the New York State Thruway.
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