Thursday, August 25, 2016

{Book Review} Murder, Inc., and the Moral Life: Gangsters and Gangbusters in La Guardia's New York by Robert Weldon Whalen

Murder, Inc., and the Moral Life: Gangsters and Gangbusters in La Guardia's New York
by Robert Weldon Whalen
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Release: September 1st 2016
Genre: Non-Fiction- Adult: True Crime, Mob
How I got it: NetGalley

In 1940 and 1941 a group of ruthless gangsters from Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood became the focus of media frenzy when they were put on trial for murder. Dubbed "Murder Inc.," by New York World-Telegram reporter Harry Feeney, it is estimated they collectively killed hundreds of people during a reign of terror that lasted from 1931-1940. As the trial played out to a packed courtroom, shocked spectators gasped at the outrageous revelations made by gang leader Abe "Kid Twist" Reles and his pack of criminal accomplices.
News of the trial proliferated throughout the country - at times it received more newspaper coverage than the unabated war being waged overseas. The heinous crimes attributed to Murder Inc. included not only murder and torture, but also auto theft, burglary, assaults, robberies, fencing stolen goods, distribution of illegal drugs, and just about any "illegal activity from which a revenue could be derived." When the trial finally came to a stunning unsolved conclusion in November 1941, newspapers generated record headlines.
Once the trial was over, tales of the Murder Inc. gang became legendary, spawning countless books and memoirs, and providing inspiration for the Hollywood gangster movie genre. These men were fearsome brutes with an astonishing ability to wield power. People were fascinated by the "gangster" figure, which had become a symbol for moral evil and contempt and whose popularity showed no signs of abating. As both a study in criminal behavior and a cultural fascination that continues to permeate modern society, the reverberations of "Murder, Inc." are profound, including references in contemporary mass media.
The Murder, Inc. story is as much a tale of morality as it is a gangster history, and Murder, Inc. and the Moral Life by Robert Whalen meshes both topics clearly and meticulously, relating the gangster phenomenon to modern moral theory. Each chapter covers an aspect of the Murder Inc. case and reflects on its ethical elements and consequences. Whalen delves into the background of the criminals involved, their motives and the violent death that surrounded them; New York City's immigrant gang culture and its role as "Gangster City;" fiery politicians Fiorello La Guardia and Thomas Dewey and the choices they made to clean up the city; and the role of the gangster in popular culture and how it relates to "real life." Whalen puts a fresh spin on the two topics, providing a vivid narrative with both historical and moral perspective.

I thought this book had interesting parts, but others made my eyes glaze over. The book is well researched and written. The issues I had with the book were it was a bit repetitive, some of the information was repeated over and over. While the information was interesting, I didn't need to be beat over the head with it. I found the book fascination in it's comparative between real life gangsters and media gangsters. The way that the real gangsters and media gangsters played off each other was interesting. The way Mr Whalen walked us through the history and elements of Murder Inc along with it's effects on New York were enthralling. Unfortunately I didn't find the political elements in the book, quite as interesting.
Mr Whalen explains how gangsters became urban heros, yet were anything but what the media built them up to be. He gives us cases that were real, yet completely worthy of Hollywood. The characters in the book are larger than life and some of the most famous mobsters in history. I enjoyed reading about how these characters created and wielded their power as well as their downfall.

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