King of the Jews: The Greatest Mob Story Never Told


Flamboyant mobster Arnold Rothstein was gambling and money. He was the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. It was rumored he masterminded the 1919 World Series fix. He was Mr. Broadway, a king of corruption holding court from his private booth at Lindy's Restaurant.

In this lively, sprawling biography, the inimitable Nick Tosches — "one of the greatest living American writers" (Dallas Observer) — examines the myth and ...

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Flamboyant mobster Arnold Rothstein was gambling and money. He was the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. It was rumored he masterminded the 1919 World Series fix. He was Mr. Broadway, a king of corruption holding court from his private booth at Lindy's Restaurant.

In this lively, sprawling biography, the inimitable Nick Tosches — "one of the greatest living American writers" (Dallas Observer) — examines the myth and extraordinary legacy of Arnold Rothstein. It is an elegy to old New York that places an iconic, larger-than-life criminal kingpin firmly at the center of nothing less than the history of the entire Western world.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060936006
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 808,125
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Tosches

Nick Tosches is the acclaimed author of many books, including biographies of Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, and Sonny Liston. He writes for numerous periodicals, including Vanity Fair, where he is a contributing editor. He lives in New York City.


A highly praised author who seems to base his choice of subjects not so much on eminence as conflicted greatness, Nick Tosches is the best example of a good rock journalist who set out to transcend his genre and succeeded. Having begun in music mags Creem and Fusion in the 1970s, the author’s career took a large turn upward with the publication of Hellfire, his biography of rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis. It didn’t hurt that Rolling Stone anointed it “the best rock n’ roll biography ever written.”

A few years later, Tosches departed from the rock milieu but maintained his attraction to subjects of undeniable power and questionable – if not downright criminal – character. He chronicled the life and times of Sicilian financier Michele Sindona in the now out of print Power on Earth, then scored another biographical home run with his authoritative Dino, about Rat Pack entertainer Dean Martin.

None of these subjects was begging to be written about; nor was the boxer Tosches compellingly depicted in The Devil and Sonny Liston, the blackface minstrel introduced in Where Dead Voices Gather, or the focus of The Last Opium Den. This is where the author’s talent nests: First in his ability to unearth topics that represent history’s alleyways; and second in the courageous, authentic prose he uses to describe them, including liberal doses of ten-dollar-words and allusions to his own role in the story.

Tosches doesn’t get caught up so much in an individual; he works to create an aura. “The lives in [my biographies] are as much about the forces at work beneath, beyond, and around,” he said in a 1999 interview with Salon. “The Liston book, to a great extent, is about those forces more than it's about Sonny himself. I mean, Sonny's life is there in full, but there are other characters and other forces directly relating to various underworlds.” Tosches will take you to his subject eventually; but he might show you through a few detours first. For example, his search in The Last Opium Den begins, “You see, I needed to go to hell I was, you might say, homesick. But first, by way of explanation, the onion.”

Tosches’ fiction work has existed under the shadow of his biographies, something the author wants to change with the ambitious, portentously promoted 2002 release In the Hand of Dante. His first novel about a Mafia scheme to fix the New York lottery, Cut Numbers, was generally well received but largely forgotten; Trinities, “a battle for evil,” was a New York Times Notable Book of 1994 but is now out of print in the States. In the Hand of Dante is a self-referential, layered story that twists the discovery of a 14th-century manuscript into a modern-day thriller also containing Alighieri himself as a character. Whether In the Hand of Dante will be, as its publisher predicts, “the most ragingly debated novel of the decade,” like the rest of Tosches’ work, it has drawn respect and attention.

Good To Know

In the 1970s, Tosches was a hunter of poisonous snakes for the Miami Serpentarium. He was also a paste-up artist for the Lovable Underwear Company.

Tosches has written a screenplay, Spud Crazy; planned adaptations of Dino (by Martin Scorsese) and The Devil and Sonny Liston (with Ving Rhames in the lead) have been reported but disappeared. Tosches told Salon in 1999, "The people in Hollywood that clean out the urinals know more about the movie status of my books than I do." In 2002, reported that veteran producer Robert Evans planned to make a film based on Tosches’s Vanity Fair article “The Devil and Sidney Korshak,” about “connected” Chicago lawyer. Tosches was slated to write the screenplay.

Tosches, who was not big on higher education, was “schooled in his father’s bar,” according to his publisher’s bio. He spent his teenage years as a porter at Tosches family’s Jersey City joint.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      High school

Read an Excerpt

King of the Jews

The Greatest Mob Story Never Told
By Nick Tosches

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Nick Tosches
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060936002

Chapter One

Damned as they have been by every lie or wisdom that has borne the name of religion, the dice are older than them all. From the Indus Valley, long before there was a Rig-Veda to scripture against them -- "Play not with dice" -- or, indeed, before there was any written language to make scripture at all, the bones tumbled onward while civilizations were born, destroyed, and forgotten. Writing in a pagan Rome that outlawed them, Terence laid the blunt and enduring metaphor to the unbeatable racket of being: "Life is a throw of the dice."

More than a century later, in 49 b.c., after his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar decided to return to Italy in open defiance of Pompey. It was a decision that would lead to civil war, Caesar's rise to dictatorship, and, on March 15, 44 b.c., his assassination. In Ravenna, before crossing the Rubicon, the red-stone stream that marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy, he is said to have declared his willful embrace of fate with the words iacta alea est: "The die is cast."

And here we pause, first to piss, then to ponder. The pissing done, the pondering begins.

At the outset of any great work of history, of which this is one (orso it is now intended to be, an intention subject to change at any moment), it is good not only to piss, but also to raise and bear the wisdom that has been given us: "A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth." This is the profound underground fissure upon which all history precariously rests. These words -- "A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth" -- have been commonly attributed to Hermann Goering or, less commonly, to Joseph Stalin. These attributions attest the words, for there is no evidence that either of these gentlemen ever said any such thing.

Iacta alea est. The die is cast. The enduring belief that Caesar uttered these words before crossing the Rubicon has its source in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, written by the Roman historian Suetonius in the early sec-ond century, more than a hundred and fifty years after Caesar's death. These now legendary words, we long have been told, were Caesar's own Latining of a phrase from his favorite Greek playwright, Menander, who likely wrote in the fourth century b.c. (Menander's many plays are lost to us or have survived only in fragments. Terence's line about life being a throw of the dice is very probably from Menander, as Terence's Adelphoe was based on Menander's Adelphoi.) But the Greek historians Plutarch, writing late in the first century, and Appian, writing early in the second century, both have Caesar speaking the phrase in its original Greek: Anerriphtho kubos. Caesar was a learned man of impeccable literacy. If he were to have rendered this Greek phrase -- which translates as "Let the die be cast," not "The die is cast" -- into his own native Latin, his words would have been Iacta alea esto rather than Iacta alea est. This alteration may have been a flourish of forceful effect on the part of Caesar or of Suetonius, or it may merely have been a scribal mistake in the manuscript of Suetonius that became our text. Plutarch alone tells us that the words, whether derived from Menander or not, were an old and familiar saying, little more than a "common phrase." Caesar himself, in The Civil Wars, wrote in detail of this decisive moment. He made no mention of speaking any such words.

T. S. Eliot, writing in 1919, observed that "Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum."

History: the harvesting of those lies that repeated often enough become the truth.

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, written near the end of the sixteenth century, drew heavily from the first English translation of Plutarch, by Sir Thomas North. In North's translation of 1579, as in the original Greek of Plutarch, Caesar dies without words:

For it was agreed among them that every man should give him a wound, because all their parts should be in this murther: and then Brutus himself gave him one wound about his privities. Men report also, that Caesar did still defend himself against the rest, running every way with his body: but when he saw Brutus with his sword drawn in his hand, then he pulled his gown over his head, and made no more resistance, and was driven either casually or purposedly, by the counsel of the conspirators, against the base whereupon Pompey's image stood, which ran all of a gore-blood till he was slain. Thus it seemed that the image took just revenge of Pompey's enemy, being thrown down on the ground at his feet, and yielding up the ghost there, for the number of wounds he had upon him. For it is reported, that he had three and twenty wounds upon his body: and divers of the conspirators did hurt themselves, striking one body with so many blows.

For Shakespeare, such silence, no matter how powerful, would not do. He knew Latin and Greek, and it was in Suetonius, who had not yet been Englished, that he found a death scene with dying words. In Suetonius, upon seeing that Brutus, Caesar's own adopted son, was among his attackers, Caesar said: "Kai su, teknon" -- a Greek vocative -- "And thou, my son." Thence the never said but immortal last words of Caesar as first conjured in Latin by Shakespeare: "Et tu, Brute."

As Shakespeare's play opens but a month before Caesar's death, there is no crossing of the Rubicon. But Shakespeare already had used that bit in Richard III: "I have set my life upon a cast, / And I will stand the hazard of the Dye."


Excerpted from King of the Jews by Nick Tosches Copyright © 2006 by Nick Tosches. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Old Nick's Bible Studies 1
My Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb 39
Nurse Love 77
Dousing the Glim 153
Strange Pull 203
Fucking Sailors in Chinatown 249
Inez Norton's Gams 283
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