cover image Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became a War Hero

Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became a War Hero

Neil Hanson, Knopf, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-26655-2

This celebration of Monk Eastman (1875–1920), is brought to life by Hanson (Unknown Soldiers) in his biography of the gangster. The son of a respectable Manhattan paperhanger, Eastman set himself on a dark path as a thief, robber, and brawler among the decaying tenements of the Lower East Side, moving up to assemble a powerful criminal empire of protection rackets, gambling, and prostitution. Following the infamous battle of Rivington Street with a rival gang, Eastman locked horns with Pinkerton agents, landing in Sing Sing with a 10-year sentence. Released after five years, he found a changed New York, free of gangs and Tammany Hall. At age 43, Eastman joined the army. Most effective is the book's second part dealing with the battlefront in the deadly trenches of WWI as Eastman distinguishes himself in action, earning military honors and redemption upon his return. But in a final twist, readers learn that though Monk had left the gangs behind, the gangs hadn't left him. This is a first-rate work of a singular life. 8 pages of illus., 2 maps, and 2 illus. in text. (Oct.)