Bugsy Siegel The Dark Side of the American Dream Michael Shnayerson

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
23 Mar 2021
Yale University Press
248 pages: 210 x 146 x 22mm
1 b-w illus.


The story of the notorious Jewish gangster who ascended from impoverished beginnings to the glittering Las Vegas strip

"A highly readable, fast-moving contribution to the annals of 20th-century organized crime."—Kirkus Reviews

In a brief life that led to a violent end, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (1906–1947) rose from desperate poverty to ill-gotten riches, from an early-twentieth-century family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side to a kingdom of his own making in Las Vegas. In this captivating portrait, author Michael Shnayerson sets out not to absolve Bugsy Siegel but rather to understand him in all his complexity.
Through the 1920s, 1930s, and most of the 1940s, Bugsy Siegel and his longtime partner in crime Meyer Lansky engaged in innumerable acts of violence. As World War II came to an end, Siegel saw the potential for a huge, elegant casino resort in the sands of Las Vegas. Jewish gangsters built nearly all of the Vegas casinos that followed. Then, one by one, they disappeared. Siegel’s story laces through a larger, generational story of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

Michael Shnayerson became a contributing editor at Vanity Fair in 1986 and is the author of eight books on a range of nonfiction subjects, including Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art. He lives in New York City.

“An amazing job. I learned a lot. A great book about real gangsters when gangsters were real.”—Nicholas Pileggi, author of Wiseguy

“Insightful, well-written, and carefully researched, this is the best and most complete biography of the notorious gangster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel in print.”—Robert Rockaway, author of But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters

“A wonderful exploration of the dark side of the American dream via Bugsy Siegel, the personification of the dark side and the dream. Just as stylish as Bugsy himself. A fabulous book.”— Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams