Tough Jews

Tough Jews

by Rich Cohen


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Back in the twenties and thirties in Brooklyn, there lived a breed of men who now exist only in legend and in the memories of a few old-timers. These men were Jewish gangsters, fearless thugs who worked for their nicknames: Buggsy Goldstein, Kid Twist Reles, Pittsburgh Phil Strauss. Growing up in Brownsville, they made their way from street fights to underworld power, becoming the execution squad for a national crime syndicate. They were known as Murder Inc., a corporation dealing in death, which did for organized crime what Henry Ford did for the automobile. Tough Jews is the first in-depth portrait of these men, a thrilling glimpse of street-level thugs, the muscle that made possible the success of gangster statesmen such as Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano. Never before have these men been handled with such wit, a clear, comic eye that sees beyond the blood to encounter each gangster's matzo-ball heart.

For Rich Cohen, who grew up in suburban Illinois in the 1980s taunted by the stereotype of Jews as book-reading, college-attending rule followers, the very idea of the Jewish gangster was a relief. The words "Jewish gangster" seemed to suggest an alternative, a future shot full of holes. For once, a Jew in jail did not have to mean white collar crime.

Cohen learned about the gangsters from his father, Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything, and his father's friends from the old neighborhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, including talk-show host Larry King. At breakfast, after touching on Jewish basketball stars and boxers, these men would speak of Jewish gangsters, corner boys who took grief from no one. Cohen, taken with his father's fixation on these elusive figures, has gone back -- interviewing survivors, prosecutors, and relatives, wading through police records and court reports -- to excavate the real stories behind the legends, the rise, the fall, and the mystery: Where did the tough Jews go?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780099757917
Publisher: Vintage/Ebury (a Division of Random
Publication date: 04/28/1999

About the Author

A contributor to publications from The New Yorker and Vanity Fair to Rolling Stone, Rich Cohen has also written books that deftly explore little-known aspects of Jewish culture and heritage, including Tough Jews and The Avengers. His latest work, Sweet and Low, is an engaging look at the story behind a little pink packet that's become an American icon.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

July 30, 1968

Place of Birth:

Lake Forest, Illinois


B.A., Tulane University, 1990

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Tough Jews 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If tough Jews interest you, also read 'The Pledge.' Barnes & Noble sells it, too. The tough Jews in 'The Pledge' are the men and women, mostly veterans of World War II, who served in the secret American underground that helped arm the new State of Israel for its war of independence. Not only Jews. Protestants and Catholics, too. People who wanted to help the homeless survivors of the Holocaust. They found, acquired , repaired and then flew surplus American aircraft to Israel to create the Israeli Air Force. Their transport planes brought the arms from Europe that made victory certain. 'The Pledge' by Leonard Slater. Tough Jews you want your kids to know about. 'The Pledge' is back in print and sold online by Barnes & Noble.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A gripping and informative depiction of 'murder inc.' and jewish gangsters of the early to mid twentieth century. This book profiles the hardships that jews faced in america and the choices some were forced to make. Tough Jews also helps to debunk unfortunate stereotypes that american jews have been labeled with and restore a sense of pride in their recent past. quick read and very entertaining.