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Book Review – Mob Fest ’29: The True Story About the Birth of Organized Crime

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Book Review – Mob Fest ’29: The True Story About the Birth of Organized Crime

Mob Fest ’29: The True Story About the Birth of Organized Crime was written by veteran mob writer Bill Tonelli, and while I don’t think this is a great book, it’s certainly an excellent book that deserves your attention. Tonelli has written about organized crime for the New York Times, Slate and Philadelphia Magazine, as well as several full-length books on the subject, certainly an impressive resume and not one of whom is wet behind the ears as far as the mob is concerned.

I would have given this book 4 ½ stars if that were possible, but since it’s not on Amazon’s options list, I gave it the full five stars.

It’s exasperating and I really don’t understand the caustic one-star reviews that are splashed across the review page of this book. Saying Mob Fest ’29 is poorly written may be an opinion, but it also may be a vendetta. Look up the term sock puppeteers and you’ll get an understanding of what I’m talking about. In my opinion, and I’ve been a published writer for almost 40 years, this is a well-written book; maybe a little rude in spots, but certainly well enough written that Tonelli keeps the reader reading, and that’s the result any good writer strives for anyway.

In these one-star reviews, readers complain Tonelli is quoting other books to make a point. Well, that’s exactly what writers do. They research books related to the subject they are writing about and they attribute the quotes, instead of writing them like they were their own original words.

Tonelli, a true pro, did extensive research for this book, going as far as to interview top-notch crime writers like Jimmy Breslin and Mike Dash. Concerning the legendary (imaginary?) huge Atlantic City mob summit in 1929, Tonelli digests the facts as he sees them. Then he comes to a conclusion, which I won’t divulge for obvious reasons. I happen to not totally agree with Tonelli’s conclusion, but I understand his reasoning and he may be right about certain events or non-events, which, according to mob lore, have always been presented as gospel when they may have been total bunk.

For instance, there is a question as to the validity of the famous photo of Chicago mobster Al Capone bouncing on the Atlantic City boardwalk with Atlantic City mob boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson and three other mob dignitaries (This picture is on the cover Mob Fest ’29). Capone is on the far left and Johnson is on the far right.
Was the picture a phony posted in the Heart-owned New York Evening Journal to discredit Johnson? According to Johnson – it was.

Tonelli noted in Mob Fest ’29, which was originally posted in Chance of a Lifetime by Grace D’Amato, “I never walked with Capone. I told people that the New York Evening Journal’s photographer superimposed two photographs. If you noticed, I had a summer suit on, while Capone and his cronies had on winter clothes.”

The supposed reason why Hearst would do such a dirty deed to Johnson was that Johnson was fooling around with Hearst’s girlfriend and Hearst hit Johnson where it hurt him most: in his reputation.

Like Tonelli says in Mob Fest ’29, “Hearst was the press baron who instigated the Spanish-American War to boost readership. After that, faking a photograph didn’t seem much of an ethical stretch.”

Despite the troubling one-star reviews, mob aficionados should enjoy Mob Fest ’29.

I know I did.

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