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Whitey's Payback and Other True Stories of Gangsterism, Murder, Corruption and Revenge

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Sixteen stories of true crime from America’s foremost authority on the underworld James “Whitey” Bulger is the last of the old-fashioned gangsters. As a polished, sophisticated psychopath—who also happened to be a secret FBI informant—his reign of power in Boston lasted for more than twenty years. When he went on the lam in 1995, the kingpin’s legend grew to rival that of A Sixteen stories of true crime from America’s foremost authority on the underworld James “Whitey” Bulger is the last of the old-fashioned gangsters. As a polished, sophisticated psychopath—who also happened to be a secret FBI informant—his reign of power in Boston lasted for more than twenty years. When he went on the lam in 1995, the kingpin’s legend grew to rival that of Al Capone. Captured after sixteen years in hiding, he now sits in a maximum security prison awaiting trial on racketeering charges and nineteen counts of murder. T. J. English has been writing about men like Bulger for more than two decades. And this collection, culled from his career in journalism and supported by new material, shows English at his best. In addition to the numerous pieces about Whitey, he reports stories about gangsters and organized crime from New York City to Jamaica to Hong Kong and Mexico. Be they about old school mobsters, corrupt federal agents, or modern-day narcotraficantes wreaking havoc on the US–Mexico border, English tells these stories with depth and insight. Combining first-rate reporting and the storytelling technique of a novelist, English takes his readers on a bloody but fascinating journey to the dark side of the American Dream.


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Sixteen stories of true crime from America’s foremost authority on the underworld James “Whitey” Bulger is the last of the old-fashioned gangsters. As a polished, sophisticated psychopath—who also happened to be a secret FBI informant—his reign of power in Boston lasted for more than twenty years. When he went on the lam in 1995, the kingpin’s legend grew to rival that of A Sixteen stories of true crime from America’s foremost authority on the underworld James “Whitey” Bulger is the last of the old-fashioned gangsters. As a polished, sophisticated psychopath—who also happened to be a secret FBI informant—his reign of power in Boston lasted for more than twenty years. When he went on the lam in 1995, the kingpin’s legend grew to rival that of Al Capone. Captured after sixteen years in hiding, he now sits in a maximum security prison awaiting trial on racketeering charges and nineteen counts of murder. T. J. English has been writing about men like Bulger for more than two decades. And this collection, culled from his career in journalism and supported by new material, shows English at his best. In addition to the numerous pieces about Whitey, he reports stories about gangsters and organized crime from New York City to Jamaica to Hong Kong and Mexico. Be they about old school mobsters, corrupt federal agents, or modern-day narcotraficantes wreaking havoc on the US–Mexico border, English tells these stories with depth and insight. Combining first-rate reporting and the storytelling technique of a novelist, English takes his readers on a bloody but fascinating journey to the dark side of the American Dream.

30 review for Whitey's Payback and Other True Stories of Gangsterism, Murder, Corruption and Revenge

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stacia

    The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge was one of the best books of 2011. I’ve read almost all of English’s books, and I’d recommend them to anyone who is interested in organized crime in America. He’s not a journalist so much as he’s a social historian, and his books make for compelling, compulsive reading. This book is a little different. It’s a collection of articles written by English and spans almost two decades (the first story was published in 1991 in Playboy, the last The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge was one of the best books of 2011. I’ve read almost all of English’s books, and I’d recommend them to anyone who is interested in organized crime in America. He’s not a journalist so much as he’s a social historian, and his books make for compelling, compulsive reading. This book is a little different. It’s a collection of articles written by English and spans almost two decades (the first story was published in 1991 in Playboy, the last in 2012 in the New York Times). As with his books, English focuses on organized crime in his articles—not so much the Mafia, which is what most Americans think of when they hear the words “organized crime,” but on Irish gangs and on the newer movers and shakers of the underworld: the Chinese, Vietnamese, Latin American, and Jamaican gangs, whose violence and ruthlessness are untempered by the Mafia’s code of honor. English describes his method of writing, which is “to approach a subject with a wide lens and then zoom in on a particular storyline, to reveal the big picture and then focus on details within the big picture.” Each article in Whitey’s Payback follows that structure: he paints the background and then fills in the details via case studies, the experiences of individuals that bring the story to life. His earlier work tends to focus on the changing face of organized crime—the impact of RICO on the Italian and Irish crime families, and the groups that replaced them—but the newer articles focus more on policies, often flawed if not outright failures, and their impact on organized crime and the innocent, vulnerable people who are forced by economic circumstance to live in high-crime areas. The “war on drugs” gets special focus in articles about the narcotraficantes in Juárez, Mexico, and about rogue DEA agents in the American Midwest. All of the threads come together in the book’s final section, which is a compilation of articles about Whitey Bulger. These incorporate themes from the preceding articles: an indictment of the FBI’s use of informants; the demise of “traditional” organized crime; the failure of American law-enforcement policies, and the lengths people will go to to gain and consolidate power. Overall this was a good introduction to English’s body of work. Having read most of his books, I was familiar with some of the people featured in the articles, and because some articles were written on similar subjects for different publications, there’s obviously some repetition. However, that doesn’t detract from the collection, which I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in organized crime beyond the Italian Mafia. This ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Leftovers from other works, or simply shallow documentation. Not enough material to make a book, hence the "other true stories". Leftovers from other works, or simply shallow documentation. Not enough material to make a book, hence the "other true stories".

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susie Sentevski

    Ahh, a stellar collection of True Crime. English uses a base of facts and stories about classic, well-known mobsters to usher the reader into the discussion of the lesser known hard-hitters in organized crime. This is as unbiased as it gets when it comes to journalism. There is neither judgement nor promotion of the organized crime presented in English's pieces. There is - simply - history; what happened, how did it happen, and why did it happen. English is even thorough enough to turn his watch Ahh, a stellar collection of True Crime. English uses a base of facts and stories about classic, well-known mobsters to usher the reader into the discussion of the lesser known hard-hitters in organized crime. This is as unbiased as it gets when it comes to journalism. There is neither judgement nor promotion of the organized crime presented in English's pieces. There is - simply - history; what happened, how did it happen, and why did it happen. English is even thorough enough to turn his watchful eyes towards government agencies in order to address the shortcomings of the system, both in enforcing the law and in protecting witnesses. A beautifully all-encompassing discussion of every angle imaginable in the world of organized crime. If you haven't read very much in this genre, I recommend English as a start - specifically, start with Whitey's Payback. English will give you everything you need in order to taste gangsterism in all its flavors.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    I anguished for a few seconds about whether to give this three stars or not, but I courageously got over that struggle since it turns out there are more important ways to spend/waste my time. The reason for the uncertainty was that there are quite a few pieces in this collection that were more than 20 years old when it was published in 2013, and it would be nice to have at least a smidgen of an update or two to bring us clueless readers up to speed. As English himself acknowledges, the pieces we I anguished for a few seconds about whether to give this three stars or not, but I courageously got over that struggle since it turns out there are more important ways to spend/waste my time. The reason for the uncertainty was that there are quite a few pieces in this collection that were more than 20 years old when it was published in 2013, and it would be nice to have at least a smidgen of an update or two to bring us clueless readers up to speed. As English himself acknowledges, the pieces were also written on deadline so the writing isn't always exactly polished. He also repeats some detail from one piece to another. Quibble, quibble, quibble. Overall a great read and I'm looking forward to English's book about New York in the '70s. Oh, and I love his politics.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hepler

    Maybe I shouldn’t try to review a non-fiction book that has the breadth and gravitas of a Russian novel, but I’ll try. This compendium can’t help but weigh itself down with its depressing subject matter, and it is made sadder by the pathos of the libertine subtexts of the articles that were written for Playboy and Esquire. Especially disturbing are the tinges of cultural relativism that run through pieces on Jamaican gangs, and the glossing over of the nasty impact that illegal drugs have on a soc Maybe I shouldn’t try to review a non-fiction book that has the breadth and gravitas of a Russian novel, but I’ll try. This compendium can’t help but weigh itself down with its depressing subject matter, and it is made sadder by the pathos of the libertine subtexts of the articles that were written for Playboy and Esquire. Especially disturbing are the tinges of cultural relativism that run through pieces on Jamaican gangs, and the glossing over of the nasty impact that illegal drugs have on a society’s human capital. I read it to glean background color for my crime novels—it offers lots of interesting information.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bettye McKee

    Semi-true crime This book consists of a series of articles written for various publications. They are ABOUT true crime, which is not the same thing. The author knows plenty about mobsters, but I found his writing to be overly wordy, thus making it difficult to read and follow. Perhaps I am spoiled by the short, pithy true crime accounts I like so well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Interesting articles about true crime in which the author shares with us several axioms of criminal life, such as, "nice guys make the best killers" and "short of death, prison remains the great equalizer". Interesting articles about true crime in which the author shares with us several axioms of criminal life, such as, "nice guys make the best killers" and "short of death, prison remains the great equalizer".

  8. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Smyth

    I finished the book on a Chi-SF flight. He is one of best true crime writers. He takes a journalistic approach to crime writing without being boring. I highly recommend the section on the war on drugs.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Erichyde

    Just okay. Rehash.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carie

    There are nasty people in this world. T.J. English likes to dig in and get his hands dirty, then tell you about it later !

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elmer Villanueva

  12. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

  13. 4 out of 5

    ACWA

  14. 5 out of 5

    Noni

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chris Noble

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tony

  18. 5 out of 5

    Colin

  19. 4 out of 5

    James Tracy

    Old school in the tradition of Royko, Kempton, and Breslin.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen R Sercombe

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kara Shore

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe Wilson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Max

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Wickerham

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tony Alexander

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  30. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Guglielmo

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