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Smalltime by Russell Shorto

Smalltime

A Story of My Family and the Mob

by Russell Shorto

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  • Published:
  • Feb 2021
    272 pages
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There are currently 27 member reviews
for Smalltime
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  • 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.
  • Dorothy H. (Folsom, CA)
    True story of Italian immigrants and the Mafia
    This book is finding your roots on steroids. The author tells of his immigrant great grand fathers journey to the US and how the family became involved in the Mafia in Johnstown PA in the early part of the last century. The author speaks to the conditions that brought the family to US and what they endured once here. Life for them was very difficult.
  • Laura P. (Atlanta, GA)
    Smalltime
    Author Russell Shorto, whose oeuvre is narrative history, accomplishes three things with his latest work. First, he presents an engaging narrative history of a small town mob unit operating in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from World War II until the 1960s. The star of this story is another Russell Shorto: his grandfather, a second generation Italian immigrant. The story also focuses secondly, on the Italian -- specifically the Sicilian -- immigrant experience and its attempt to merge itself into US culture. Finally, Shorto presents a fraught family history. He explores the relationship of his father and his grandfather. and his grandfather's relationship with his grandmother,as they say, warts and all. The book is short, reads easily, and draws excellent and interesting characters. I enjoyed this one!
  • Joy E. (Rockville, MD)
    An Offering You Can't Refuse
    This mash-up of memoir, history, and sociology is entertaining and enlightening. Russell Shorto demonstrates, through the history of his family and hometown, that the mythic big gestures and bloody violence of the mob portrayed in The Godfather books and movies are not the whole story. In small towns like the one in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that his Sicilian immigrant forebears settled, organized crime, mostly in many forms of gambling, was ubiquitous and sometimes nasty but nothing like the street wars of popular accounts.

    Shorto's focus on his grandfather organizes the book and provides a good overview of the illegal, but not terribly secret, underground. Unfortunately the man for whom the author was named was a repulsive man whose mistreatment of his family, one hopes, was not typical. In describing the structure of the gambling operation in his home town, Shorto sketches parallels with the larger, corporate robber baron economy that kept its workers down while enriching those at the top. A deeper look at this symmetry would be a worthwhile extension of this book.
  • Joan P. (Owego, NY)
    Smalltime
    Smalltime is a very interesting narrative history of a family and the Mafia in a small city in Pennsylvania. Russell Shorto is urged by friends and family to tell the story of his grandfather, Russ, and his life of crime. As he listens and records stories he finds to fully understand he must explore the beginnings of the Italian immigration to America. The motivation for the entry into the illegal life was poverty and the easy money to be made during prohibition.
    Along with the story of mob, Shorto begins to realize the inaccuracy of childhood memories. His father, Tony, had a very distant relationship with his father and never entered the crime family.
    Smalltime is not for everyone but I found it informative, thought provoking, and very well written.
  • Patricia W. (Desoto, TX)
    Smalltime
    I enjoyed Smalltime. It gave me a better understanding of immigrants including the dire circumstances of some of their lives in their birth countries, how difficult it was for them to make a living in the United States, and how these hardships affected their family lives and their choices. It was interesting to learn about the daily workings of a small-town mob. Some of the descriptions brought back fond memories such as sheath dresses in department store windows. I never knew that the pinball industry severely declined after most homes had televisions, but I most enjoyed reading about the family relationships. Just as in the book, many people do not know much about the lives of their parents and grandparents, which limits their understanding of why they lived as they did. Through the exploration of his grandfather's life with the help of his father, the author developed a new and deeper understanding of his family.
  • Patti P. (Phoenix, AZ)
    Review of Smalltime
    When I started reading this book, I was a bit distracted. After I read about 50 pages, I decided that I was missing integral, pertinent information and started again. I cannot say enough how very glad I did just that - started again. I really loved this book!! Rich in history I never knew (how much prejudice Italian immigrants—Sicilians in particular—faced coming to the US during the early 1900s), big personalities that I often loved and/or despised. What I loved most was the Journey Russell and his father Tony took in the creation of this memoir. The "righting" of wrongs and the discovery of who they were despite and in spite of their roots. Thank you for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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