A lively addition to the history of Italian American immigration and its discontents.

SMALLTIME

A STORY OF MY FAMILY AND THE MOB

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-24558-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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