John J. Binder
Al Capone's Beer Wars:
A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition
John J. Binder is a Professor Emeritus of Finance in the Busisiness School at the Univeristy of Illinois in Chicago. He is a leading authority on organized crime with two previous books on organized crime under his belt. Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition is a scholarly and meticulously documented book yet Binder manages to keep it interesting. He critizcizes most previous works for either glossing over the prohibition era of gangland Chicago, sensationalizing the violence, or obsessing on the most interesting murders and not focusing enough on the major bootlegging gangs and the various bootlegging gang wars. Binder also feels that previous work has failed to fully explore pre-prohibition gangs and the impact prohibition had on the evolution of these gangs and their rackets. The focus on bootlegging paints a fascinating picture and he digs up extraordinary documentation on the gaings and their interactions with each other and the political structure of Chicago. At times his hypothesis gets in the way of his story. If two gangs are fighting over labor racketeering rather than beer, they are still fighting and the results are the same. Binder develops a "vice index" that he uses throughout and the tables he uses to support his arguments are so packed with information that they become hard to follow. Despite this, he provides information and a point of view available nowhere else. He manages to debunk many of the major myths of organized crime and its kingpins and despite the documentation writes a gripping story that is hard to put down. The book is well illustrated with black and white photos of the major figures discussed in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend the book to anyone interested in beer during prohibition, the history of Chicago, gangland Chicago or Chicago politics.
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