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Weekend Reading: Howe & Hummel, Lawyers to the Scoundrels of Late 19th-century New York

August 19, 2011

HBO’s hit show, Boardwalk Empire, traces back to the 1980s and Nelson Johnson, who represented the Atlantic City Planning Board at “dawn of the casino age.” What began as an effort to understand the dynamics of the city’s government became, over 20 years, a book about the corruption and vice of Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Another decade later, the book is a hit show and Johnson, now an Atlantic City Superior Court judge, has published his second book, a history of Atlantic City’s Black community.

Fans of the book and the show will likely also enjoy Cait Murphy’s similarly salacious history, Scoundrels in Law. It vividly depicts the moral gutter of 19th-century New York and its most prominent law partnership, Howe & Hummel. Murphy brings to life all the colorful figures of the day—madams, saloonkeepers, prizefighters, gangsters, swindlers, cops, politicians, anarchists, reformers and reverends alike. Much of the book’s strength is that it is not simply a legal history but a literary-minded account of a wild era, albeit one which takes as its organizational principle the work of two legendary attorneys. For a little pleasure reading this weekend, check out a lengthy excerpt online.

NYC Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt

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