Andrew Gross follows Mark Twain's advice to write what you know. And he hits a home run. Button Man is not the usual immigrant rags-to-riches tale. The remarkable life of Morris Rabishevsky (soon to be Raab) is actually, "with only a few embellishments," the story of the author's own grandfather. Gross's love and admiration for the man show through on every page. Gross's glimpses of immigrant life in the cold water tenements of the Lower East Side are raw and memorable A horrific accident, whose after-effects ripple throughout the story, is particularly gripping. We learn about the garment industry in detail (but not too much detail) and how the unions, an important social reform following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, become infiltrated by the mob. Once the police and politicians are on the mob's payroll, intimidation, physical threats and violence become everyday events. The factory owners fall in line--with the exception of Morris Raab. The appearance of historical figures like Legs Diamond, Albert Anastasia and Thomas E. Dewey add richness and authenticity to the story. The book's greatest strength, in my view, is Gross's depiction of fear and courage. Morris's comment to mobster Louis Buchalter, in the final scene, reminds me of the Biblical verse that the truth will set you free: "But the moment you decide to stand up, you become brave, you're free." My only reservation about Button Man is its Houdini-like climax, chains and all. I suspect that it was one of the "embellishments" Andrew Gross acknowledged adding to this compelling story.
Andrew Gross has written several very good novels of historical fiction, and "Button Man" continues the trend.
Morrs, Sol, and Harry Raab (Rabishevsky) grew up poor on New York's lower East Side. Once their father passed away, the boys were forced to find work. Morris, at age twelve, started working in the clothing industry. Morris' life serves as the backdrop for the entire story.
As time passed, Morris and Sol started their own clothing business. Money was good, and they were doing well in their professions. But organized crime ruled the day, and labor unions were being installed in many of the other clothing operations. Led by such figures as Louis "Lemke" Buchalter and "Dutch" Schultz, these men would use force and intimidation to persuade a business to allow workers to unionize. Morris and Sol, one of the last hold-out companies face an inevitable showdown with Lemke and his mob. To make matters even more interesting, Harry has become involved with Lemke's thugs.
One by one, Morris' friends in the business have either been forced out or killed. Morris, one of the few survivors, knows he must do something; but at what cost? Eventually working with special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Morris takes his chance at bringing down Lemke and his cronies. But will it be enough?
I've read Andrew Gross' previous books "Saboteur" and "The One Man", and I enjoyed each very much. "Button Man" is equally as good. I enjoyed reading the story because I didn't know much about this period in history. As for the story itself, it is catching from the very beginning. The characters, especially Morris, his wife Ruthie, and Sol are very well-developed. Many real-life characters, including Arnold Rothstein, are included.
If you enjoy good historical fiction novels, then don't miss "Button Man". Highly recommended.
This is a beautiful story based on real historical facts, taken from this author's grandfather life, made into a book story. The story starts with the day that one of the brothers died from being run over by the horse-drawn firetruck on its way to the Temple fire where their father worked. The family is Jewish and lives in NYC in the neighborhood section primarily inhabited by Jews. NYC was sectioned off into tenement sections decided by similar ethnic background. When Morris who was the youngest was turning 13, he became an apprentice at a garment factory to learn a trade since he disliked school studies. By the time he was 21, he owned his own business, after having learned all parts of the knowledge from the owners of the factory he worked at. He had a good friend Irv, who was more of a book person, whose parents paid for someone to act as a bodyguard for him while traveling the streets. After the tragic fire in 1911, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where 146 workers were killed, started a trend for unions to protect the workers. But mobsters gained control of the unions to gain control of the union funds to their benefit, not the workers. There began a process by the mobsters to force factory owners to go union or they faced the destruction of their business and injury or death. Morris doesn't want to bend to these brutal tactics, not just because he's a fair employer but because of the restrictions placed on the owners to buy products equal in quality to what they brought before, which was worse for the business in the long run. A lot of well-known mobsters are mentioned as part of this story and not all were Italians as some think. What was most impressive in this story was how the mobsters of all denominations preyed on their own. Brutality had no discrimination. One thing I can testify to is that those were very brutal times in NYC, as my parents were children growing up during the times described in this book, which explains why they moved to the Bronx, right after I was born, to get away from those streets. This author present real history within a fictional story. Great read.
The man has a true talent for writing. He has a great concern for detail and is consistent with them. I find them a great for non stop flights from Los Angeles to London or Hong Kong. If you start in the lounge before boarding you'll be able to make it thru the book uninterrupted. I have had the pleasure of reading all of Andy's book (even the ones with Patterson) He has a style that gives you all the details needed tor the mystery or to set the stage without pages of unrelated and unnecessary information. Any time I see his name on a book I know it will be a good read and a welcome gifts for friends.