Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer by Walter Shapiro

From acclaimed journalist Walter Shapiro, the true life story of how his great-uncle—a Jewish vaudeville impresario and exuberant con man—managed to cheat Hitler’s agents in the run-up to WWII.

All his life, journalist Walter Shapiro assumed that the outlandish stories about his great-uncle Freeman were exaggerated family lore; some cockamamie Jewish revenge fantasies dreamt up to entertain the kids and venerate their larger-than-life relative. Only when he started researching Freeman Bernstein’s life did he realize that his family was actually holding back—the man had enough stories, vocations, and IOUs to fill a dozen lifetimes. Freeman was many people: a vaudeville manager, boxing promoter, stock swindler, card shark and self-proclaimed “Jade King of China.” But his greatest title, perhaps the only man who can claim such infamy, was as The Man Who Hustled Hitler.
A cross between The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Guys and Dolls, Freeman Bernstein’s life was itself an old New York sideshow extravaganza, one that Shapiro expertly stages in Hustling Hitler. From a ragtag childhood in Troy, New York, Shapiro follows his great-uncle’s ever-crooked trajectory through show business, from his early schemes on the burlesque circuit to marrying his star performer, May Ward, and producing silent films—released only in Philadelphia. Of course, all of Freeman’s cons and schemes were simply a prelude to February 18, 1937, the day he was arrested by the LAPD outside of Mae West’s apartment in Hollywood.
The charge? Grand larceny—for cheating Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In the capstone of his slippery career, Freeman had promised to ship thirty-five tons of embargoed Canadian nickel to the Führer; when the cargo arrived, the Germans found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin. It was a blow to their economy and war preparations—and Hitler did not take the bait-and-switch lightly.
Told with cinematic verve and hilarious perspective, Hustling Hitler is Shapiro’s incredible investigation into the man behind the myth. By reconstructing his great-uncle’s remarkable career, Shapiro has transformed Freeman Bernstein from a barely there footnote in history to the larger-than-life, eternal hustler who forever changed it.

I very often have difficulty reading stories that are non-fiction and I thought this would be different because the subject had my interest.

But like other non-fiction books I’ve read I got bored and couldn’t even break 50 pages. If you’re not starting to fulfill the title of the book by then it’s too long and needs a major edit.

My issue is that I am told events by the author and not shown events. It’s just factual or rumored antidotes told in a very textbook way. The best way for me to be invested is if it reads like a fictional story, even though it is not. I want to read a first person account from Freeman himself.

Second, I get that the author was trying to set up a background of Freeman’s life and how he became the man he was but I just wanted it to be about him hustling Hitler. I was not interested in the little details of his many cons and vaudeville days. Just concentrate on that one detail of his life, conning Hitler.

I like history and could watch historical programs on TV all night, but when it comes to reading them, I can never push myself to get very far and finish. If they aired a documentary show about Freeman Bernstein on the History Channel I’d watch.

1 out 5 fake jewels. 

*I received an digital ARC from Penguin’s First to Read*

 

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The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

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From the nationally bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls comes a story of 1950s Texas socialites and the one irresistible, controversial woman at the bright, hot center of it all.

Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?

Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.

A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.

The After Party was a fast read. I got through 100 pages in a day easily – which was a plus.

They story was entertaining in a Real Housewives of Houston way, only set in the 1950’s. The women take care of their families, go to social functions and gossip.

My thoughts on the two main women:
Cece, given her childhood and family life I get her attachment to Joan, but it crossed over into a self-distructive obsession.

The secret Joan withheld was easy to guess before it was revealed. While it was tragic I didn’t feel overly sorry for her. Perhaps because she was spoiled. I guess, though, that her decisions are more true to life. Not everyone gets to pick themselves up when they hit rock bottom. In a more inspirational story she would have achieved her dreams to “go where the ideas are.”

I loved the descriptions of the fashion of the day. DiSclafani painted a clear picture for my mind to imagine the glamor and elegance. I thought of fashion sketches and illustrations of the 1950’s.

Overall I was luke-warm about The After Party. I liked it well enough, especially that I finished it in 4 days, but it’s not added to the favorite list.

3 out 5 cocktails.