Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gus Russo: Supermob: How Sidney Korshak And His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers

It's wise to be wary of any writer who begins too many sentences with "Interestingly." Usually, items of genuine interest don't need to be demarcated as such. Even more maddeningly, Gus Russo litters the first quarter of Supermob with the word "interestingly" without providing much of interest. In the 150-odd pages of his uneven but often engaging new book on shadowy super-lawyer Sidney Korshak, Russo painstakingly establishes the financial and personal linkages of various Chicago-bred Jews (the loose, amorphous supermob of the book's title) who rose to great power in part through their connection with organized crime and the remains of the Capone gang. Russo's legwork eventually pays off, but reading dryly written accounts of an endless assortment of interchangeable shady deals is about as riveting as listening to the sordid confessions of a calculator or ledger book.


Russo's expose of Korshak and his powerful associates takes off once the action moves to California and Las Vegas, two of Korshak's more colorful spheres of influence. As a labor lawyer with close ties to the Teamsters and the Italian mob, Korshak thrived at the knotty intersection of organized crime, big business, Hollywood, politics, and organized labor. Hollywood players like Lew Wasserman, Robert Evans, and Ronald Reagan got a contact high from Korshak's shadowy mob connections and sinister power, while the mob cultivated Korshak as its gentlemanly, educated link to respectable society. At his zenith, Korshak was so powerful that his girlfriend Jill St. John (in Russo's gossipy telling, at least) broke off dates with Henry Kissinger because she considered Korshak more important.

The central tragedy in Russo's book is the way Korshak and his underworld chums corrupted unions through sweetheart deals and mob collusion, transforming them from tools of empowerment for the working class to vehicles for the poor's continuing oppression. For all its clumsy writing and leaden, interminable exposition, Supermob blossoms slowly but steadily into an absorbing secret history of an American 20th century in which the wealthy play by different, more forgiving rules than everyone else, and a savvy fixer named Korshak rigged countless games in the super-rich's favor.

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