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 top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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