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Boardwalk Empire If fans of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire read this hoping just for stories about corrupt politicians gangsters bootlegging sex violence and a disfigured hit man they’re probably going to be disappointed However anyone looking for an interesting history of Atlantic City from its humble beginnings of a second rate resort town through it’s glory days of as a popular destination point during Prohibition because of it’s total unwillingness to enforce anti booze laws to it’s current state as a gambling town that is still plagued by urban decay would probably find this book interestingWhile the author spends plenty of time on the reign of political boss and part time racketeer Nucky Johnson the inspiration for the Steve Buscemi’s character Nucky Thompson and the way that the corrupt Republican machine built and ruled Atlantic City for decades this is really a history and not a true crime book While the links between organized crime and the politicians is documented extensively the book centers on the political corruption instead of gangland shenanigansSo while there’s no Martin Scorsese style violence it’s an interesting history of a uniue city Bound City of SwingSunPost Weekly September 16 2010 | John Hoodhttpbitly90vmwPGetting with the Book behind Boardwalk EmpireThe 500 Club Paradise Café Club Harlem Little Belmont The Bath and Turf Club the Cliuot Club just saying names of these fabled swing spots evokes an era of high vice and low blows These were gambling dens before the era of casinos yet run wide open Why Because in Prohibition era Atlantic City what was once vice was now habit and it wouldn’t be broken for anything let alone a little inconvenience like lawAs you’ve undoubtedly heard by now that wild time in the ol’ beachfront town is about to be brought back to life by HBO in the series Boardwalk Empire Executive produced by Martin Scorcese who directed the first episode and overseen by EmmyAward winning writer Terence Winter of The Sopranos Boardwalk Empire promises to be the It series of the season And there’s not a TV viewer in all the land who isn’t duly thrilled by the prospectBut like many a cool concept to make its way to screens big and small Boardwalk Empire springs from somewhere else In this case it’s Nelson Johnson’s same named book which rings with the subtitle The Birth High Times and Corruption of Atlantic CityUnlike the series Johnson’s book runs the gamut of Atlantic City’s riveting history from the time the sandbar was nothing than a gleam in a man named Jonathan Pitney’s riled eye to the time when the bottom basically fell outta the sky and hard times had once again descended upon the descendants of the “Pineys” who first made this inhospitable place homeBut the highlight of the book – and the subject of the series – is the stretch that spanned from Prohibition to The Great Depression when everything went and it all went under the watchful eye of one Enoch “Nucky” JohnsonRenamed Thompson for the series and played by great Steve Buscemi Nucky Johnson was the kinda boss of which legends are made A pal to both President Harding he delivered the New Jersey delegation at the Republican Convention and Al Capone he arranged a mob conference in May of 1929 Nucky was known as a man who could get things done and make everyone a lotta loot while doing so Ever with a dame on his arm and a thug by his side Nucky ruled with a combination of charm and hubris that over shown and out shadowed even The Commodore who’d beueathed him his spot No one stood between Nucky and his objectives because Nucky’s objectives benefitted everyone And virtually everyone made out like proverbial banditsEveryone but a certain William Randolph Hearst that is The story is that Nucky had hit on a chick at the Silver Slipper Saloon a chick that just so happened to be a favorite of Hearst’s When the womanizing newspaper magnate found out about it he used his broadsheets to run a series of exposes detailing the crime and corruption under Nucky’s reign Nucky countered by banning all of Hearst’s newspapers Then Willy Boy really got mad and he enlisted J Edgar Hoover and his G men in a uest to get evenIt took some time five years or so and it took some finagling like I said no one wanted to speak out against their benefactor but the Feds did finally make their case and Nucky went down for tax evasionIt’s a dynamite tale about as tall as they get and one that has no shortage of drama Why else would Scorcese et al get involved More though it’s the kinda story that reveals about ourselves and our origins than many a mere history ever could no matter how factually writtenMedford Press originally published Boardwalk Empire back in 2002 and parent company Plexus has just dropped a TV tie in that includes a Terence Winter forward a new afterword by the author and a slew of color photos that’ll put you right back into the time While you’re though you’d be wise to get your mitts on J Louis Yamplowsky’s A Boardwalk Story a novel set in the waning days of The Great Depression Unlike Empire this Story is centered around “a reclusive mystic and a charismatic pitchman and mathematical savant” rather than the gangsters and machine bosses that concern HBO Taken in tandem however they represent a once upon a time that was simply unlike any other everSee you on the Boardwalk baby No this isn't a pot boiler full of sex violence and perfect looking people That's the highly entertaining fiction based on fact TV series and this is not the novelization of that showWhat this is is the whole history of Atlantic City from its founding as a health resort its success mainly as a resort for working class folk from Philadelphia its golden age under Nucky Johnson NOT Thompson its post prohibition fall that continued for decades and its rebirth as a casino resort townWhat is especially interesting is the chapter on Atlantic City's African American community Nearly the entire work staff of the town was black and lived under conditions that differed little from the plantations of the the pre Civil War South It's a sad and remarkable storyJohnson knows his subject and tells his story with far skill than most historians do if you read adult history books you'll know what I mean And I skimmed a great deal of the latter half of this book especially everything involving that nasty bastard Donald Trump where the narrative lags But if the TV series has piued your curiosity about Atlantic City this is worth looking into This is the book the HBO series used for its basis Contrary to popular myth Atlantic City was not a summer playground for the rich but rather a working class getaway that catered to every illicit whim Brothels and gambling flourished but Prohibition really made Atlantic City famous and rich Under “Nucky” Johnson the “Commodore’s successor anything nominally illegal elsewhere could be had in Atlantic City “A naughty time at an affordable price”The short history of Atlantic City presented at the beginning of the book is really uite interesting The land was bought up originally to develop a health spa but then in order to make it accessible a railroad was reuired to get people from New York and Philadelphia But in order to compete with Cape May summer playground of the rich they tried to appeal to the working man so prices had to remain low Soon there were four railroads delivering customers in spite of swarms of green flies and mosuitoes that sometimes drove horses crazy not to mention people To serve customers cheaply labor costs had to be kept low and poor southern blacks who had suffered as slaves and were then abused after Reconstruction was destroyed politically migrated to Atlantic City to fill the jobs Whites wanted nothing to do with them socially and soon the city was segregated into white and black ghettos The irony of it all was cruel to Blacks They earned a respectable wage could vote and own property They performed the most personal of services and were entrusted with important responsibilities but they were barred from restaurants amusement piers and booths; were denied shopping privileges by most stores; were admitted to hotels only as workers; were segregated in clinics and hospitals; and could only bathe in one section of the beach but even then had to wait until after darkLouis Kuehnle otherwise known as the “Commodore” was soon running the town but in a wise if corrupt manner He focused on infrastructure building water and transportation systems that functioned well and paving the streets “Commodore understood that Atlantic City’s business owners would gladly sacrifice honest government for a profitable summer and he gave them what they wanted Kuehnle protected the rackets from prosecution and worked with the tourist industry to ensure its success In exchange the community let him call the shots”Unfortunately following the election of Woodrow Wilson the Presbyterian antithesis to anything fun and later president to the NJ governorship cramped things “Wilson was a crusader who saw things in black and white Impersonal in his relations he attracted supporters in much the same way people latch on to an abstract principle” His attorney general went after election fraud and that resulted in Kuehnle’s imprisonment opening the way for “Nucky” Johnson who was far corrupt and even controlling Johnson got himself appointed City Treasurer a non elective office which he held for decades and which held the key to all graft The 18th amendment played right into the hands of Nucky and all during Prohibition booze flowed freely and openly as Atlantic City became a huge transit port for liuorJohnson had a gift for understanding people their desires and needs He managed to control the city to such an extent that virtually everyone owed their jobs to him “Crucial to his power and the control of the Republican organization he learned how to manipulate Atlantic City’s Black population He continued the Commodore’s private welfare system but the assistance he gave Johnson went beyond what Kuehnle had done for blacks; come the winter he was their savior Long stretches of unemployment in the off season could be devastating Johnson saw to it that the Northside had food clothing coal and medical care “If your kid needed a winter coat all you had to do was ask—maybe it wouldn’t fit but it was warm If the grocer cut off your credit the ward leader told you where to shop on the party’s tab The same was true if someone needed a doctor or a prescription filled” Corruption as good government Boardwalk Empire is an interesting and enjoyable if rather uneven read Victims of this most recent recession economy will undoubtedly be interested to know that Atlantic City’s initial development and success was brought on not by the nation’s wealthiest vacations but rather by blue collar workers and wage earners eager for a weekend getaway they could afford The resort’s uniue and complicated relationship with minority workers during that time also makes for rather fascinating readingOf course the book’s heart really lies in its description of Atlantic City’s heyday during the 1920’s aka the “reign of Nucky Johnson” It is definitely no accident that THIS is the portion of the book Terrence Winter chose to develop into an HBO series Fans of the series will undoubtedly recognize some of their favorite colorful characters from the show in their historic doppelgangers The Nucky chapter of the book is chock full of interesting anecdotes in depth character analyses and shocking connections between organized crime and political and economic success on the Boardwalk I suspect an entire book could have been written about this portion of Atlantic City’s history alone For this reader in fact a narrative focus limited to the 20’s would have been preferable to this slightly over ambitious “complete” historical overview I can’t help but wonder how many interesting stories were discarded so that the author could “finish” his historical analysis of the CityThings took a turn for the dull toward the center of the book which chronicled Atlantic City’s admittedly mundane history between the 1950’s and the 1970’s The author’s faithful recapturing of each and every important political figure who “reigned” supreme in Atlantic City during that time became extremely tedious Eventually the various commissioners gamers crooks and politicians identities all seemed to merge and become indistinguishable from one another As a result of this reader’s lack of identification with these characters their individual stories began to seem uninteresting and unremarkableToward the middle of the book the author also seemed to develop this odd narrative techniue of introducing a random character into the story and then never mentioning him or her again I found that a bit distractingFortunately the book picked up steam in its final sections The Donald Trump segment of the story in particular was fascinating and extremely well written This chapter too I think could have easily been developed into its own bookIn conclusion I think this was a case of a talented writer who did a spectacular amount of research and then simply bit off than he could chew in its retelling I would probably recommend that readers focus on the early portions of the book and the Trump chapter and skim the rest If you are planning to read this book for supplemental background for the HBO show don't bother This book is of a concise history of the city than a focus piece on Nucky and the players of that time Only roughly 3 chapters cover the Nucky era and there's no depth at all A few uotes here and a 3 sentence Al Capone story there The only depth is spent on descriptions of attempted indictments and trials It really doesn't do much to expound on the players of the time or specifics of the criminal aspects If you want a broad history of Atlantic City and its politics then you might like this Atlantic City has uite a history from the rocky beginnings to its colourful characters like Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson subtitle The Birth High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City tells the history of this US city While this book inspired the current HBO series of the same name this is not a reason to read this The HBO show tells the story of a fictional character based on Nucky Johnson called Nucky Thompson in the show If you were to base a show on this non fiction book it would turn out like House of CardsThere was a big chapter of Boardwalk Empire devoted to Nucky Johnson who was an interesting guy If you know the plot of the HBO series you might be aware of the type of character Nucky was despite being only loosely based on him His rise to power came thanks to the Volstead Act but he wasn’t just a mob boss he was a political powerhouse Corruption never seemed so complex and scary; using the Republican Party to control the city all the while using extortion to fund the party This techniue helped control Atlantic City keeping it corrupt well into the modern eraWhile the history of Atlantic City is fascinating it is sad to see just how big of an impact organised crime had on a growing city I have an interest in the Volstead Act and how prohibition helped organised crime get a foothold in America Boardwalk Empire shed some interesting insights into the cultural impact it had on a large scaleI have started a new phase in my reading life where I’ve become very interested in non fiction While Boardwalk Empire wasn’t the greatest book there was a lot to learn about politics and organised crime This period of time interests me and I plan to read a whole lot reading on the Volstead Act and organised crime so I need recommendations If you know good non fiction books on these topics let me knowThis review originally appeared on my blog; In Boardwalk Empire Atlantic City springs to life in all its garish splendor Author Nelson Johnson traces AC from its birth as a uiet seaside health resort through the notorious backroom politics and power struggles to the city's rebirth as an entertainment and gambling mecca where anything goes I'm sure that readers of in depth detailed political history will find this book fascinating from cover to cover Because I am not uite the in depth political history scholar I didn't find the entire book so much fascinating as I found it to be long windedThat said there were in depth parts of the book I did like These were the parts that focused on the characters I was familiar with as a fan of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire It was interesting to find out how Atlantic City started as an empty stretch of fly ridden sand and became the backdrop for an empire I enjoyed reading about Louis The Commodore Kuehnle and how he set the stage for inspiring future politicians and power brokersI enjoyed reading about Nucky Johnson the basis for the Boardwalk Empire character of Nucky Thompson The author does a great job detailing how Johnson came to power and how he simultaneously exploited and helped fellow politicians gangsters shop owners the poor and pretty much anyone else in his path The fact that Johnson held power so completely and in a steel grip did not diminish the respect admiration and loyalty that throngs of people had for him no small feat I also enjoyed reading about Johnson's successor Hap Farley and how Farley came to power I suppose I started to feel bogged down sometime after that and found myself first skimming text then skipping ahead several chapters altogether I would encourage fans of Boardwalk Empire to give this book a try as it does have a lot to offer Just be warned that you may find your eyes glazing over after a while The first half of this book is great The history of Atlantic city from its start through prohibition is fascinating and well told After that the book gets bogged down in repetitive statements and reads like a timeline of bullet points Even in this section there are still some things worth reading The authors analysis of the reasons for Atlantic City's decline and prospects for the future seem to be well researched and on point Over all it is worth reading

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