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Smalltime

A Story of My Family and the Mob

by Russell Shorto

Smalltime by Russell Shorto X
Smalltime by Russell Shorto
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2021
    272 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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There are currently 25 member reviews
for Smalltime
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  • Rosemary C. (Golden, CO)
    Interesting Family History
    Russell Shorto is a good writer and has written an interesting history of his family, focusing on his grandfather's time as a small time mafia boss specializing in gambling. Overall I enjoyed the book, including the fact that Shorto takes on a psychological excavation of four generations of his family. By the end of his several years of research, I was left with the impression that the author was more at peace with the messiness of his predecessors because he had answers to questions that had nagged at him during his adult life.
  • Edie M. (Kennett Square, PA)
    Inside look at small town/smalltime mobsters
    I chose this book because I am personally familiar with Johnstown, PA. Having visited the town many times on our way to the Poconos, I was very interested in finding out more.

    The memoir is a fascinating look into the life of a mobster through the eyes of his family and friends. There is also a little mystery/who-done-it woven into the pages. This story might have never been told if it wasn't for a persistent cousin.

    I found it very thought provoking. Watching the memories being colored by stories told.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to peek behind the curtain of the smalltime mob.
  • John A. (Austin, TX)
    The Johnstown Mob
    Smalltime is an amalgamation of Italian American, western Pennsylvania, mafia, and family histories that come together in an interesting, entertaining fashion.  One really got a feel for the hardships that Italian Americans faced in being accepted into American society, and an understanding of why they not infrequently pursued a counterculture life style to get by and prosper.  The author does a good job of piecing together the story through historical research and exhaustive interviews with the major players in the Johnstown, PA mob, particularly those pertaining to his family connections.  As an historical family memoir, it fulfilled its mission and was educational and fun to read.
  • Colleen A. (Rome, GA)
    Smalltime by Russell Shorto
    I found Smalltime to be a fascinating look behind the wall of secrecy regarding the business of gaming and racketeering in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area. It's also the author's personal saga about the many characters who surrounded his family through the years. Russell Shorto was shielded by his father's intense desire to keep his son away from that world.

    So, it became process of personal discovery when his dad's cousin insisted that the story be told of those mob related years. Explanations of the surge in interest of all forms of gambling, especially within the Italian immigrant population, were quite informative. This book was an insightful, rarely seen look into a colorful, illegal lifestyle of the past. Fans of "true crime" would enjoy reading this book. Only a family tree would have made the generations easier to understand.
  • Sonia F. (Freehold, NJ)
    Family secrets
    I chose this book simply because of the word "Mob". It has to be a dark side of me, but I find Mob stories intriguing. Smalltime by Russell Shorto was more than intriguing and more than the Mob. I loved the way the author drew on historical events in the 1920's. It was post WW1 and with the consequences of prohibition came organized crime and pre-mafia activities.

    The story starts in Sicily where the author travels back to his great grandfather home town to find out more of the families role in the making of a mob family. The story started from Sicily and ended in a small town in Pennsylvania, America - Johnstown. The setting is a store front next to City Hall of all places. There is where a gambling empire ruled the town with ping pong machines, number games, chess. All of this happening along with the illegal sale of alcohol.

    Smalltime is also an immigrant story; a family living in poverty and squalor and experiencing deep prejudice and racist acts against Italian Americans. At this juncture, I must add that I learnt that not only blacks were lynched at that time period in America, Italians were also lynched. But as the author reminded the reader, "But while things were changing fast in the postwar era, with Italians being accepted as white, the wall was still in place with regards to Blacks. Black performers couldn't sit in the audience after their set but had to retire to their dressing rooms". This narrative bit of history was quite welcoming and was not sugarcoated at all. So along with all the mix of history, discrimination, night clubs, lounges, slot machines this book was fascinating. It is a deeply personal account of family and cultural history and aspiring to the American dream.
  • Linda S. (Cranberry Township, PA)
    Narrative "Voice"
    My initial motivator for reading this book was its setting: Johnston, PA and surrounding areas. I grew up in Pittsburgh (and there were a number of 'Pittsburgh connections in the story) and so it was an easy choice. If you have seen Goodfellas (the movie) you will recognize Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), a character from the movie. He is the narrator throughout the movie. As I read the Smalltime, the voice of the author/ narrator, Russell Shorto, became the voice of Ray Liotta in my head. This book is riveting and honest and having assigned a "voice" in the telling made the book all that more visual to me. Being able to make those "pictures in your mind" when you read so much more vivid. I don't think I have ever enjoyed historical narrative this much. Mr. Shorto's truthfulness when he writes about his family and particularly his father gives this book special appeal.
  • Marie A. (Warner, NH)
    The Search for Answers
    I enjoyed reading SMALLTIME because it is both interesting and informative in its personal and historical aspects. Shorto informs the readers about the reasons Italians came to the United States and also what tempted them to become involved in the illegal activity of the mob, especially in small towns in the United States. At the same time, he seeks to uncover his roots in this part of American history.
    As he gleans more information in his research which includes personal interviews and discussions with his father, he and his father form a relationship they never had before. Not only does the author learn more about his grandfather and his role in the mob, he also learns that some things his father told him were not factual, but more importantly, Shorto learns to better understand himself as he researches his ancestors and the story of small town mob activity.

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