Although much has been written about Al Capone, there has not been--until now--a complete history of organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition. This exhaustively researched book covers the entire period from 1920 to 1933. Author John J. Binder, a recognized authority on the history of organized crime in Chicago, discusses all the important bootlegging gangs in the city and the suburbs and also examines the other major rackets, such as prostitution, gambling, labor and business racketeering, and narcotics. A major focus is how the Capone gang -- one of twelve major bootlegging mobs in Chicago at the start of Prohibition--gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. Binder also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizens' groups, against organized crime. In the process, he refutes numerous myths and misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other criminal groups, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and gangland killings. What emerges is a big picture of how Chicago's underworld evolved during this period. This broad perspective goes well beyond Capone and specific acts of violence and brings to light what was happening elsewhere in Chicagoland and after Capone went to jail. Based on 25 years of research and using many previously unexplored sources, this fascinating account of a bloody and colorful era in Chicago history will become the definitive work on the subject.
Al Capone's Beer Wars Review
- June 24, 2017BAM The BibliomaniacA big thanks to John Binder, Prometheus Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book.Binder proves he is a king of the statistic with Beer Wars. Never have I seen such concise compilation on this era. Nothing was left out. The daily lives of prostitutes, the running of alcohol, the intimidation of union members-its all here. Prohibition was a breeding ground for crime. And there were some ingenious masterminds who learned how to successfully play the game for about 20 years-men and women. A big thanks to John Binder, Prometheus Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book.Binder proves he is a king of the statistic with Beer Wars. Never have I seen such concise compilation on this era. Nothing was left out. The daily lives of prostitutes, the running of alcohol, the intimidation of union members-its all here. Prohibition was a breeding ground for crime. And there were some ingenious masterminds who learned how to successfully play the game for about 20 years-men and women. I was very impressed with this book.more
- June 25, 2017BetsyIf you want to know to know something about the Chicago gangs during Prohibition, this is your book. The research is highly detailed and there are loads of pictures. On a personal note, I found out that Bugs Moran of St. Valentine's Day Massacre fame once shot up a bar in my hometown and then spent time in the McLean County jail before returning to Chicago. Who knew?The names and amount of killings can be mind-boggling, but you do pick up an appreciation for the terror and corruption that spread If you want to know to know something about the Chicago gangs during Prohibition, this is your book. The research is highly detailed and there are loads of pictures. On a personal note, I found out that Bugs Moran of St. Valentine's Day Massacre fame once shot up a bar in my hometown and then spent time in the McLean County jail before returning to Chicago. Who knew?The names and amount of killings can be mind-boggling, but you do pick up an appreciation for the terror and corruption that spread through Chicago from bootlegging, gambling, and other forms of vice in the Prohibition era.more
- June 1, 2017Huguette Larochellewow , very interesting book , the author did lots of recherche, very detail.i win this book , it provides the history of vice,very violent world in 1920 era .good job Mr John J.Binder.
- June 30, 2017Joe KrausFor starters, John Binder is the name in Chicago-area Prohibition-crime history. He’s been a friend, mentor, collaborator, and resource to me, but that hardly makes me unique. John has been a generous and insightful resource to everyone who’s found his way to him in the last quarter century. In fact, a good squeeze-the-produce way to find out if a work in this field is any good is to check its acknowledgements page: if John isn’t mentioned, it means the author never really got started digging. L For starters, John Binder is the name in Chicago-area Prohibition-crime history. He’s been a friend, mentor, collaborator, and resource to me, but that hardly makes me unique. John has been a generous and insightful resource to everyone who’s found his way to him in the last quarter century. In fact, a good squeeze-the-produce way to find out if a work in this field is any good is to check its acknowledgements page: if John isn’t mentioned, it means the author never really got started digging. Lots of people are doing good and provocative work on the Capone era, (think of Rich Lindberg, Matt Luzi, Mario Gomes, Rose Keefe, and Mars Eghigian) and but none of them are doing it without somehow coming into contact with John.And this book is the summation of John’s three or four decades of research. If you’ve never really gotten the skinny on Capone, this book has it (though it may not be the best place to get a first exposure to that long and bloody story). If you already know where some of the bodies are buried, then no other source can take you so quickly to the current, advanced thinking about what happened, what people say happened, and how far we can go with revising this well-known but distorted historical moment.In a broad sense, this book has been done before, but not for almost 60 years and not without many significant recent findings. In the immediate wake of Prohibition, there was an entire industry dedicated to creating the general myth of Capone’s Chicago. On the one hand, you had the rise of the “Syndicate” under Colosimo, Torrio, and Capone. On the other, you had the nefarious Dean O’Banion (I can call him “nefarious” because he shot my grandfather), Hymie Weiss, and Bugs Moran lining up the Northside Gang. Then, after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it was just Capone until he got knocked off his perch by Eliot Ness. Or was it for tax evasion?From almost the moment the bullet casings fell to the floor, you had writers mythologizing the Chicago gangster. (Armitrage Trail and Ben Hecht were writing versions of Scarface while Capone was still at large, and every day’s newspaper – of which there were seven competing – brought some fresh anecdote.) There was nothing romantic about the character – that wouldn’t come until the middle 1960s with Mario Puzo – but he was certainly magnetic. Equal parts charismatic, menacing, cunning, and doomed, he quickly fit into an established storyline: a rapid rise and a sudden fall.I have a long shelf full of books that people were writing in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, all of which tell the same essential version of the Chicago gangster story, one that featured Capone but that didn’t necessarily revolve around him. Then, starting in the 1940s, writers tended to focus on one or another aspect rather than the whole. Capone’s legend grew larger and larger, to the point that it overshadowed almost everyone else’s. (There are at least four serious biographies of Capone – Pasley, Kobler, Schoenberg, and Bergreen – and that doesn’t count the dozens of books that deal with a slice of Capone’s life or the countless quickie biographies that simply recycle what’s already out there.) In other words, the Prohibition story in Chicago got reduced to the story of Capone.What Binder does here, above all, is restore the larger context of that story. Yes, there’s still a lot about Capone and a lot about booze, but this book recovers the histories of the dozen or more substantial gangs that started out as legitimate rivals. And it also restores some necessary balance to the crimes in play. It wasn’t all booze. It began with prostitution and gambling, grew to include the crucial business of racketeering, and eventually necessitated political corruption. So it’s more characters doing more things.That larger net makes it harder to tell a coherent story. There are stretches here where we get long lists of names that may not mean especially much to people who haven’t studied this material. Still, no one has attempted to publish such lists since at least 1961 (when Kenneth Alsop attempted the last such overarching history) and no one has ever done so with so much ancillary research at hand.Once Binder lays out the structure here – several gangs involved in several different kinds of criminal enterprises – he gets to the familiar story of “Al Capone vs. Bugs Moran.” Except, here, Binder refuses to let it settle into the familiar rise and fall of Scarface. Among other things, he asks an obvious question that few have posed: if we know that the Northside Gang had hundreds of gunmen and dozens of significant lieutenants, then how did the killing of only half a dozen of them – leaving Moran alive – bring an essential end to the gang war? Binder’s answer is that it didn’t. The Massacre marked the beginning of the end, but only the beginning, and he gives a substantial chapter to the extensive sequel. The Moran forces may have been weakened, but they were soon, but temporarily, even stronger after their alliance with the noxious pimp Jack Zuta, the suddenly wealthy Aiello gang, and the bold, further Northside Touhys. In other words, as Binder convincingly reminds us, the gang war continued a good five or six years longer. The Capone gang – even after Capone was sent to prison – pursued a patient and disciplined strategy, one that took foresight but also good fortune. Time after time they fragmented the opposition, absorbing some of the ones they’d defeated, and then continuing to pressure the ones who remained. It took really until World War II, but they eventually consolidated everything and became (though this is outside Binder’s study) a kind of government for the criminal world, compelling anyone who broke the law to play by their rules, paying the proper “street taxes” and abiding by clear directives about where or when they could ply their illegal trades.Along the way, Binder offers a number of thoughtful digressions to take down either longstanding myths or attempts at historical revisionism. Among them• He argues that the South Side O’Donnells, led by the media savvy Spike, were more influential than contemporary observers – particularly the ones who attempted to record which gangs held which territory – seemed to acknowledge. He uses careful studies of police logs and Chicago Crime Commission data to suggest we’ve allowed Spike to settle into a teller-of-tales sort when, in reality, he was consequential.• He takes on Tribune columnist John Kass’s assertion that Capone was essentially a figurehead for later mob boss Paul Ricca. Binder acknowledges the consensus that Ricca went on to become probably the paramount figure in the mob, but he sees no evidence to suggest that influence began as far back as Kass asserts.• He challenges the formidable Laurence Bergreen who put forward the notion that Capone was really fronting for Chicago Heights power Frankie LaPorte, but he does so thoughtfully, acknowledging the more focused (and more credible in this context) work of Matt Luzi who has shown the Chicago Heights gangsters were more consequential than contemporaries realized.• And he more or less demolished Jonathan Eig’s recent assertion that William “Three-Fingered” White was the architect of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.Those digressions sometimes do break up the core narrative of the book, but since this is a book about expanding about that narrative we can forgive it.In the end, there’s so much here that it’s easy to declare it an essential work in the field. Binder gives us the most complete updating of the overall Chicago Prohibition era study that we’ve had in decades, and he does it with the same modesty I’ve seen in him for years, crediting others for the pieces they’ve contributed to this very large puzzle he’s done so much to solve. A lot of us have been waiting for this one for a long time, and it’s great to have it at last.more
- June 17, 2017ChrisVery detailed book about the period but way too many statistics. I didn't need to know how many gangsters involved in a specific type of crime were murdered with a specific type of weapon at a certain period of time in a certain part of the city.
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