First published in 1991 as Little Man: The Gangster Life of Meyer Lansky, the original text has been revised and updated for this edition by Robert Lacey, and much bonus material added.
“Daring and well written … it would be criminal not to read it.” People magazine
They called Meyer Lansky the Godfather of the Godfathers, the Chairman of the Board of the National Crime Syndicate, the Mafia’s banker. They credited him with a personal fortune of $300 million, with having said “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” He was portrayed on the screen in The Godfather, Part II as Hyman Roth, dividing up Cuba with his fellow gangsters, and more recently in Boardwalk Empire as himself, played by Anatol Yusef.
If, in the mythology of organized crime, Al Capone symbolized the crude menace of the machine gun and the baseball bat, Meyer Lansky stood for the brains, the sophistication, the hot money, the sheer cleverness of it all. And yet, when it came down to it, no law enforcement official in 60 years could find much to pin on the supposed boss of bosses, and within a few years of Lansky’s death, his crippled son was living on welfare.
Meyer Lansky: The Thinking Man’s Gangster is a book about organized crime unlike any other yet written. In this brilliant biography and social history, Robert Lacey separates the strands of fact and legend in Meyer Lansky’s career, revealing a truth about the gangster life in America that is far more fascinating and dramatic than fiction.
A Jewish immigrant from Russia, Lansky broke into a life of crime running crap games and acting as a shtarke, a strong-arm man for Jewish and Italian gamblers on the Lower East Side of New York. Teaming up with his pals Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, he graduated to bootlegging. Meyer became the master of the “share-out,” keeping all the figures in his head and dividing up the spoils from smuggled liquor shipments. In the thirties and forties he moved on to illegal gambling, running the classiest casinos around. He invested in modern Las Vegas – though he never really liked the place – and became the gambling consultant to President Batista during Havana’s glory days. In World War II he even acted as a go-between for U.S. Naval Intelligence, paving the way for gangster help to the Allied invasion of Sicily.
Then in 1951 Estes Kefauver’s Senate Crime Committee named Lansky as one of the leaders of organized crime in America, fueling the legend that would eventually destroy him. Cuba’s revolutionary leaders expelled him in 1960 as a corrupting influence. His attempts to go into legitimate business and later to settle in Israel were frustrated by the shadows of his past. His every step was dogged by the FBI and the IRS, as his family disintegrated and his health declined. His death was front-page news, but at the end, his power and wealth were all gone.
Based on dramatic new documentation and firsthand interviews with Lansky’s close friends and business associates, with law enforcement experts, and members of the Lansky family, Meyer Lansky: The Thinking Man’s Gangster is a powerful and irresistible narrative of a man and a way of life never before truly examined. Robert Lacey has written, in this bestselling biography, a groundbreaking exploration of organized crime in America and of our enduring fascination with criminals.
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