"Smalltime is a big pleasurean emotionally astute, deeply personal work of family and cultural history."
"A compelling memoir, one that reads with the forward momentum of a good novel. A splendid book in every way."
"Written with a keen ear for the darkly humorous inflections of Italian American speech, Shorto’s story of a small-town USA mobster, his grandfather, ought to change forever how we think about the mafia. La Cosa Nostra flourished not only in big cities but across the continent, wherever there were mines and factories, as much a part of the post–World War II industrial boom as smokestacks, union bosses, and big cars with fins. Smalltime is also a deeply personal and moving reflection on the bonds between Italian American grandfathers, fathers, and sons. Beautifully written, brilliantly researched, Smalltime establishes itself immediately as a classic of the Italian American experience."
"Shorto tells us the story of a small-town, smalltime mob, but, much more than that, the story of an American family over three generations. By turns tender, poignant, and unsparing."
"Russell Shorto is a magnificent writer and Smalltime is a delicious story. A world so vividly rendered, you will find it hard to leave."
"Part memoir, part narrative history rich in mesmerizing detail, at the heart of Smalltime is the abiding love the author clearly holds for his colorful and flawed Sicilian immigrant family, one that looks so very much like the American family. I could not put this book down, and you won’t be able to either."
"Russell Shorto’s Smalltime draws a convincing portrait of a time when Italian Americans weren’t permitted to live in certain neighborhoods or rise too high in the political firmament. This remembrance of his grandfather’s and great-uncle’s livesof slots and pinball machines, ‘tip seals,’ ‘skeeched dice,’ and places like the Melodee Lounge and City Cigarmixes great history and lovely, lingering memories: ‘Long conversations about spaghetti sauce and aunts who kissed you on the lips: those were the ways we were Italian.’"
"This immersive, poignant memoir reminds us all to question the stories and myths we’ve grown up with. These pages are both gritty and elegiac, tense and tender, embodying the contradictions at the heart of all families. A deeply satisfying read."
Historian Shorto vividly portrays the lives of farm-team mobsters, among them his own ancestors.
When immigrant Antonino Sciotto and his common-law wife arrived in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, more than a century ago, he changed their names to Tony and Mary Shorto. This change, writes the author, an accomplished chronicler of Dutch Manhattan and other fulcrums of world history, “wasn’t just due to vague notions of Americanness….It was also a way of distancing themselves from the past, from the village in the hills of eastern Sicily.” Ironically, it was while on a visit to his mother in his homeland that Tony was killed after flashing a money belt stuffed with dollars. He had fathered children by that time, including five girls and, in 1914, a boy named Rosario, Americanized to Russell, the author’s grandfather and namesake. After living hand to mouth in childhood with his widowed mother, Russ senior hustled to carve out a spot in the Prohibition era, building a small-city empire that included booze, gambling, and other more or less soft crimes, with some of the money going to the mob in Pittsburgh and some traveling to the ruling Mafia families in New York. Prohibition addressed a national drinking problem, Shorto allows, but it also targeted two groups disproportionately: “urban elites and recent immigrants,” with the term “organized crime” also carrying an ethnic connotation that spoke against the “Irish, Jewish, and Italian mobs that grew up around the business of providing alcohol during Prohibition.” The implication was that homegrown criminals were noble solitary outlaws against the dangerous, conspiratorially minded new arrivals. The criminal enterprise ran deep but was often peaceful, though violence was certainly not unknown. In a narrative full of sharp twists, Shorto learns, to his surprise, that his own father served jail time “as a teenage gun wielder”—though in later years, his father, thoroughly assimilated, turned to sales and the think-and-grow-rich slogans of the postwar era.
A lively addition to the history of Italian American immigration and its discontents.