Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life

Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life

by Robert Lacey, Ron Silver

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This biography of the notorious hoodlum by the author of The Kingdom succeeds in deglamorizing a gangland figure around whom all sorts of mythology was created, both during his lifetime and after. A product of the ghetto on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Lansky (1902?-1983) spent his adolescence developing the conviction that, if there were an honest and a dishonest way of achieving a goal, the dishonest way was preferable. Like many members of organized crime in his era, he became a specialist, working with casinos. He was rigidly honest about not cheating the public and paying his partners their due. His family life was a horror: Lansky's first wife became semi-psychotic and their three children had miserable lives; his second marriage was somewhat better. The media-generated image of a financial eminence grise worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the gangland chairman of the board, was largely fictional. A major contribution to the history of organized crime in the U.S. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
In this intelligent, thoroughly researched biography, Lacey argues that Jewish gangster Lansky was primarily ``a professional gambler . . . caught dodging his taxes,'' rather than the eminence grise of the Mafia as portrayed by the media. Maybe so, but Lansky was a master at keeping secrets and it is unlikely that his full criminal role will ever be known. Following the loss of his casino to the Cuban revolution in 1959, Lansky was denied Israeli citizenship in 1972 and died in a hospital in 1983. This sympathetic but objective account is brought to life with interviews of Lansky's family and friends. Superior to Dennis Eisenberg's Meyer Lansky ( LJ 10/1/79), it is recommended for crime collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/90.-- Gregor A. Preston, Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Kirkus Reviews
Superb revisionist biography not only of Meyer Lansky but also of the supposed American-Italian crime corporation called the Mafia; by the author of The Kingdom (1981) and Ford (1986). Lacey's larger message is that the Mafia is really like local groups of Freemasons, with sometimes quite active links between one another but not congealed into a centrally structured organization. There is "no shadowy General Motors of crime." Moreover, the Mafia's way of life, Lacey shows, is less than mythic: "The average mafioso, and much of his self-esteem, stem from the stereotypes that have been created by the media...Their lives are pale copies of the vigor and creativity of the straight world—and the clever ones like Meyer Lansky learn to copy its honesty as well." Lansky several times tried to set up businesses in the straight world, only to have them go under and find himself still stuck in the world of gambling. He suffered a brutal youth on New York's Lower East Side but early was taken under the wing of Arnold Rothstein, a.k.a. "The Brain," who kept all his criminal businesses discrete—and kept their books in his head. Lansky, too, became famed for his head for figures, as well as for his lack of greed and his honesty in sharing. He was misquoted as saying that "the Mafia" was bigger than US Steel (he said "organized crime" was), and his reputed $300 million nest egg was fantasy, as Lacey makes clear. Lansky was a genius among his fellow thugs, but died almost broke while living modestly in retirement in Miami and caring for his ulcers and triple bypass. In 1974, he phoned Lee Strasberg to tell him, "You did good" (as the Hyman Roth/Lansky character in Godfather II): "Thedeep voice on the phone was flesh and blood seeking contact with the celluloid image...." Shoots huge holes in the great American gangster myth—and its many bad reporters. Enthralling. (Thirty-two pages of b&w photographs—not seen.)

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