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Boss Tweed: The Life and Legacy of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New Yorkby Kenneth D. Ackerman
Synopses & Reviews
Among the monumental characters who ascended to renown and influence in the history of American politics, few are more fascinating than Boss Tweed; and few working historians could record in more vivid detail his astonishing career than Kenneth D. Ackerman, who in his two previous books has established himself as an investigative historian of the first order. This vibrant, accessible, and altogether captivating new work, Boss Tweed, is a biography of the legendary figure who "bribed the state legislature, fixed elections, skimmed money from city contractors, and diverted public funds on a massive scale." During his reign at Tammany Hall and then in a variety of elected posts, including as U.S. senator, Tweed wielded almost total control over New York State and City politics, before his unparalleled zealotry and remorseless disregard for the law led to his imprisonment. Yet, as Ackerman shows, Tweed's positive political contributions have been largely overlooked.
From one of the most talented new historians to have emerged in recent years comes this thrilling story of William Marcy Tweed, the master manipulator who tried to make all of New York the instrument of his own ruthless ambitions, and succeeded — for a time. Numerous historic photographs are also featured.
"William Marcy Tweed didn't invent graft, but he rigged elections and stole from the public on an unprecedented scale, gaining a stranglehold on New York City and amassing a vast personal fortune. By the early 1870s, he and his 'ring' had skimmed between $25 and $40 million from the municipal treasury, a staggering amount even in an era notorious for robber barons and market manipulators. Ackerman, the author of The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday 1869, a book about two other Gilded Age scoundrels, deftly chronicles Tweed's epic rise and ultimate disgrace, giving us a nuanced portrait of the 'Boss.' Early in his career, Tweed brilliantly recognized that he could win power by mobilizing New York's teeming working-class and immigrant wards. Through patronage and largesse, Tweed recruited an army of ballot-box stuffers who helped install his cronies in office, allowing him to award jobs and contracts to friends while punishing enemies. Tweed's ring borrowed vast amounts on the city's tab and spent lavishly on such public projects as Central Park, making Tweed 'the city's grand benefactor, Santa Claus with a diamond pin.' But while Ackerman gives Tweed his due, describing how the Boss's machine aided the poor and helped modernize a crowded, chaotic city, the author is too clear-eyed to present his subject as a latter-day Robin Hood. Ackerman's Boss Tweed robbed everyone — and kept plenty for himself. And ultimately, Tweed's corruption and fiscal recklessness had crippling consequences for the city long after he died, penniless, in jail. In the end, this book is not only a compelling look at the colorful yet ruthless man who invented the big city political machine, it is also the gripping story of how dedicated newspapermen and zealous reformers brought down a notorious kingpin." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A thoroughgoing, rayon-smooth biography....A fine piece of narrative historiography for a wide public, from scholars to the lay enthusiast of New York City's political past." Kirkus Reviews
"For connoisseurs of corruption, Ackerman shrewdly mixes together the reformist zeal and political opportunism that marked Tweed's career." Booklist
"In his excellent new biography of the Boss, Kenneth D. Ackerman tells again the story of the man who died in 1878 and remains the epitome of big-city corruption....The story of Tweed's rise and fall is told in a crisp, clear way." Pete Hamill, The New York Times Book Review
"[T]he book is based upon solid research in the available primary and secondary sources, and is replete with rich biographical details and colorful anecdotes that bring the period to life....Boss Tweed is a pleasure to read..." The Washington Post
"Boss Tweed, although erratically narrated and poorly organized, manages to get the job done, in large part because Mr. Ackerman has his hands on a terrific story with compelling characters. Tweed, of course, is worth his weight in gold." William Grimes, The New York Times
"Ackerman tends to flood you with details, as if his reading of old newspapers gives him material he hates to keep to himself....But it's good reading and, no, it didn't really make me think about our former mayor." Providence Journal
Book News Annotation:
Drawing on primary sources, a writer on the "political murder" of President Garfield and Wall Street's "swindle of the century" in late 19th century New York presents the first biography in about 30 years of this corrupt Tammany Hall politician. Ackerman, a Washington, DC lawyer/former Capitol Hill staffer, balances the shenanigans that made William M. ("Boss") Tweed infamous with his advocacy for the poor and immigrants. Cartoons show how Tweed was perceived in his time. Distributed by Publishers Group West.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The life and comeuppance of the corrupt 1870s Tammany Hall boss who thieved as grandly as he lived while conceiving the ambitious soul of modern New York City.
This vibrant, accessible, and altogether captivating new work is a biography of New York's Boss Tweed, the legendary figure who "bribed the state legislature, fixed elections, skimmed money from city contractors, and diverted public funds on a massive scale." Archival photos.
About the Author
Kenneth D. Ackerman was born in Albany, New York and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1973 and his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1976. He was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1976. He was Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Manager of its Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). Mr. Ackerman also served as Special Counsel to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (1988-1993) under then Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, where he played a significant roll shaping the CTFA Amendments of 1992 and as Counsel to the Committee on Governmental Affairs (1975-1981) under Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois.
He is the author of The Gold Ring : Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Black Friday, 1869 and The Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield.
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