Sunday, August 21, 2016

*Review* Hustling Hitler by Walter Shapiro

Genre: Non-Fiction
Published: June 14, 2016
Pages: 446


From acclaimed journalist Walter Shapiro, the true life story of how his great-uncle—a Jewish vaudeville impresario and exuberant con man—managed to cheat Hitler’s agents in the run-up to WWII.
Vaudeville manager, boxing promoter, stock swindler, card shark and self-proclaimed "Jade King of China," Freeman Bernstein was a master of exuberant excess and no stranger to the hard-hand of the law. But the charges he was arrested for on the evening of February 18, 1937, outside of a Hollywood starlet's home, were more serious than those he had ever encountered before. The most powerful and feared man in the world--Adolf Hitler--claimed that Bernstein had committed fraud against the German government. While living in Shanghai in 1936, Bernstein had been asked to procure a large quantity of nickel for the Germans. Nickel was essential to make stainless steel for armaments, and impossible at that time for Germany to openly buy on the international markets. When the shipments arrived from Canada, bearing Bernstein's stamp of approval, the Germans found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin: a huge blow to their economy and war preparations. 

All his life, journalist Walter Shapiro assumed that the outlandish stories about his great uncle Freeman were exaggerated pieces of family lore; a cockamamie Jewish revenge fantasy dreamt up to entertain the kids and venerate their larger-than-life relative. But in recent years, Shapiro decided to search for the truth, and in this fascinating exploration of Bernstein's life, he investigates the incredible possibility that a New York Jew--born to in 1874 to Polish immigrants--may have been responsible for a critical shortage of Nazi resources in the early years of World War II. 

Shapiro's easy narrative naturally evokes Bernstein's colorful world: from the smell of the grease paint backstage in a seedy turn-of-the-century vaudeville house in Bayonne, to the roar from the ringside seats of a top-rated 1923 middleweight bout in Mexico City, and the ominous sense of what it must have been like for an American Jew to be arranging shady business dealings in Germany in 1936. A thrilling and page-turning read, Hustling Hitler is the untold story of the larger-than-life, eternal hustler who changed the course of history.


I received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

I have mentioned in the past that I've always been fascinated by the European theater during WWII, so this book should have been a touchdown for me. Sadly, it was flatter than Tom Brady's footballs. 

I was drawn in by the promise of the story about a Jewish vaudevillian conning Hitler and then made to wait until page 348 to read about it. I'm pretty sure the book spent more time talking about Mae Ward and her varying number of Dresden Dolls than it did talking about the Hitler Hustle. Freeman Bernstein supposedly led this really interesting life, but it came across tedious and boring (and I really kind of wanted the jerk to get his comeuppance.) 

This book has a lot of facts, at least I assume they are facts because the bibliography at the end is extensive. I really didn't care about most of them though, because they had nothing to do with Freeman Bernstein at all, let alone the Hitler swindle. 

If I had realized that this book was a whole life biography of Freeman Bernstein, I never would have requested it. 2 out of 5 stars. - Katie 

Buy the Book

About the Author

Political columnist Walter Shapiro is a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law and a lecturer in political science at Yale. He won the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for best online columnist for his work as a senior correspondent at Politics Daily.

An award-winning audio engineer for over forty years, Tom Perkins has expanded his skills to narrating and has more than sixty titles to his credit. He learned by working with the world's best voice talent during his career, and he continues to engineer a variety of projects.

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