I’ve been reading Mr. Gross’ books, both co-written and solo, for the past 10+ years (since my pre-Kindle days). Although I’m fond of all his novels, his recent Saboteur and One Man were exquisite. However, I went ape over Button Man! It is so well written,and it’s totally engaging from the first page and exciting right up to the ending. I loved the historical dynamic and was especially pleased and impressed when I learned from the epilogue that the story was patterned after AG’s grandfather’s life. Love your style, Andrew. Keep them coming!
Andrew Gross has written a novelized biography of his grandfather, a pioneer in the garment industry. His protagonist is Morris Raab, born Rabishevsky, who as a boy of 12 on the lower eastside starts working in a garment factory and ultimately rises to become a major manufacturer of women’s coats and later dresses. For me the book is especially poignant because my furrier father manufactured linings, collars and cuffs for high end cloth coats, the very product made by Raab. In fact there is furrier in the book who supplies Raab.
What makes “Button Man” so interesting is Raab’s encounters with the mob that was dominating the garment and fur workers unions of the 1920s and 1930s. We see such mobsters and Murder Incorporated founder Louis Lepke Buchalter and his sidekick “Gurrah” Shapiro doing their best to intimidate Raab and his brother partner, Sol. We also run into Albert Anastasia, Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. At first Raab fights the mob and then is prepared to give in and ultimately he stands up to them. He does this by linking up with special prosecutor Tom Dewey through one of his lower eastside lawyer friends. And at great peril to his life and the lives of his family he plays a role in bringing down the mob.
What Gross’ novel does is that it shows the real life consequences of what happens when the mob controls the unions. Everybody, but the mob loses with workers and bosses alike suffering as worker wages and boss’ profits are drained away through protection payoffs, forced buying from mob controlled firms and fraudulent union welfare funds. For those who don’t play ball they face fires, acid attacks on their garments and their persons and murder. Gross brings to life what it was like to be a small business owner in the garment industry of that era. As the son of a furrier whose business started in 1930 the novel rings true.
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.
Sometimes I'll read a novel and wonder where the author came up with the plot and the characters. With American author Andrew Gross's novel, "Button Man", I didn't have to wonder as it's plainly stated that both the story and characters are based - with a little "embellishment" - on his mother's family, the Pomerantz family, owners of the women's dress company, Leslie Fay.
When I wrote that Andrew Gross was an "American" writer, I think that the story of his family - and particularly that of his grandfather - and their embrace of the "American Dream", is a uniquely American one. And not just "American", but "Jewish American". Morris Raab - the name was shortened - is the main protagonist of the book. The youngest of six children, he was the only one born in the United States. His parents and older siblings were born in Europe. Does being born on American soil give you an extra bit of nerve or chutzpah? It's certain that Morris Raab possessed that nerve as he made his way in the rag trade, from the age of 12. Dropping out of school to help support his family, Morris climbed up from cutter to eventual owner of a thriving business in the 1930's. But there the story gets ugly and complicated for Morris Raab, because not only is HIS story a truly American one, so's the story of the other side.
With his success, Morris Raab caught the attention of the Jewish mob, then ruling the New York City rag trade with an iron fist. Andrew Gross writes about real people - Louis Lepke, Dutch Schultz, and Charles Workman, among others - who were into extreme intimidation - both physical and financial - of the garmentos. Raab takes on the mob as his friends in the business are brutalised. (An interesting side plot concerns the fictional Morris Raab and the very real Louis Lepke).
Andrew Gross's book is violent in parts. It certainly doesn't seem like a "feel good" book, but, strangely, it is in a way. It's the story of a family in a time and place where standing up for one's self was one way to a successful life. Morris Raab and his extended family found respect and a place in our society with that strength to persevere.
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.
An historical thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat and gasping for breath as a family struggles against organized crime in New York City in the 1930’s. The story follows the lives of the Rabishevsky’s who must try to manage and stay together after their father dies. The three boys goes their separate ways to find work to help their mother and two sisters.
Harry, torn by his guilt over his twin brother’s accidental death, feels lost and alone and unloved by his family. He turns to and becomes involved with thugs and an organized crime boss. Sol and Morris find work in the garment district after dropping out of school at twelve years old. The Mob is everywhere and soon infiltrate the garment business that Morris and Sol have created. This story chronicles the struggles of these men and others as they try to keep their businesses in spite of the threats of the mob.
The author has created another wonderful story. This one is even more special in that it is based on the life of his grandfather, a brave, courageous and heroic individual. His grandfather stood up to the crime bosses and helped save lives and businesses in the process enabling the police to clean up the city.
A worthwhile and intriguing read that I highly recommend. Andrew Gross is one of my favorite writers of thrillers.
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.
I've read all of Andrew's stories, and have appreciated all, but since he turned to historical fiction with The One Man (another worthy read) he has been a serious deliverer of history that is not far from non-fiction. Andrew's Button Man, is actually based on his brave, gutsy grandfather's hardships and triumphs in the early days of unions and protectionism in NYC's garment industry. The good guys were the Jews who worked hard and employed the workers. The bad guys were the Jews who exploited, robbed, beat up and killed the owners of the factories. Dutch Shultz and others were the bad guys, and Thomas Dewey helped put them away, in the end. Personally, Andrew Gross' s grandfather character, Morris Raab, was a gutsy kid who stood up to Louis Buchalter, a rough kid in the neighborhood. Louis grew up to be one of the mob leaders and cut Morris some slack, but it didn't last. Morris had relationships with his brothers, one of whom felt alienated from the family because he was blamed for his twin' s death as a kid, and, later when blamed for allowing the mob into Morris' s factory to burn it down. There's a lot that's disturbing to read but, as with the Holocaust, these events are based on reality, and this cannot be ignored. You'll be glad you read this story, and you will shed a tear on the last page. Don't skip to that last page, though. Read the whole book!
Lots of the books I read seem to be geared towards women. I recommend this book for all readers. The history of the garment center and the Jewish Mob is fascinating. I loved the main character, Morris Rabb, a true hero. I routed for him all the way through. Excellent twist at the end, did not expect it at all and won’t spoil it for you. Then the last chapter gave me the happy ending I always hope for in a book...it wrapped up his whole life (written in italics). I felt like they were family - was very tense at times. Then I read the authors notes at the very end and when I discovered the main character was his grandfather and this was a true story, I liked it even more; my rating went from a 4 to a 5. I realized that’s why I felt the love for this family, the author wrote it with love for his Grandpa. A beautiful tribute to an astonishing man. He would’ve been very proud of his grandson who has become an excellent writer. CH
My wife started this book first and after telling me snippets, got intrigued enough to read it myself. The interesting part is the detail of how the Jewish mob intersected with the everyday guy. Everybody has read about the Mafia and aspects of Murder, Inc., but the relationships that existed between those who lived the Mob life and the regular working man are well told here. Gross was lucky to translate his grandfather's story and does well to convey the man's struggles and strength of character. This is a quick read because the story is real and the personalities are available on Wikipedia so you can see what they looked like and learn more about them.