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Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and…
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Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City (edition 2010)

by Nelson Johnson, Terence Winter (Foreword)

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3231350,579 (3.29)13
Member:lex10
Title:Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City
Authors:Nelson Johnson
Other authors:Terence Winter (Foreword)
Info:Plexus Publishing (2010), Edition: TV Tie-in Edition, Paperback, 312 pages
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Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson

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Excellent for the historical stuff (everything that the TV series is inspired by) and completely dull and uninteresting for everything that happened after 1970, which is a disappointment after I enjoyed both the series and the first two thirds of the book so much.

Can anyone recommend a good book on the rise of the Casino Empire that supplanted the boardwalk empire? ( )
  bensdad00 | Jan 10, 2017 |
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 quite interesting. The land was bought up originally to develop a health spa, but then, in order to make it accessible a railroad was required 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 mosquitoes 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 dark."

Louis 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 more corrupt and even more 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 liquor.

Johnson 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. ( )
  ecw0647 | Dec 16, 2015 |
gave to my Dad
  richcasto | Jan 3, 2015 |
Atlantic City has quite 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 more like House of Cards.

There 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 technique helped control Atlantic City, keeping it corrupt well into the modern era.

While 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 scale.

I 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 more reading on the Volstead Act and organised crime, so I need recommendations. If you know good non-fiction books on these topics let me know.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/04/25/boardwalk-empire-by-nelson-johnson/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 4, 2014 |
Absolutely fascinating history of Atlantic City. Focus will naturally fall on the Prohibition period thanks to the TV show, but this book has so much more than that. From the unpromising beginnings to the coming of the casinos in the 1970s, the history of Absecom Island reads like a thriller. Recommended. ( )
  Watty | Nov 14, 2013 |
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Winter, TerenceForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0966674863, Paperback)

Providing the inspiration and source material for the upcoming HBO series produced by Academy Award–winning director Martin Scorsese and Emmy Award–winning screenwriter Terence Winter, this riveting and wide-reaching history explores the sordid past of Atlantic City—forever a freewheeling town long-dedicated to the fast buck—from the city's heyday as a Prohibition-era mecca of lawlessness to its rebirth as a legitimate casino resort in the modern era. A colorful cast of powerful characters, led by “Commodore” Kuehnle and “Nucky” Johnson, populates this stranger-than-fiction account of corrupt politics and the toxic power structure that grew out of guile, finesse, and extortion. Atlantic City's shadowy past—through its rise, fall, and rebirth—is given new light in this revealing, and often appalling, study of legislative abuse and organized crime.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:25 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Examines the politcal rivalries and corrupt practices which led to the creation of Atlantic City, from it beginnings as a quiet beach town to its rise as thriving and lawless city during the Prohibition era to its establishment as a gambling and entertainment mecca.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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