All his life, journalist Walter Shapiro assumed that the outlandish stories about his great-uncle Freeman were exaggerated family lore; some cockamamie Jewish revenge fantasies dreamt up to entertain the kids and venerate their larger-than-life relative. Only when he started researching Freeman Bernstein's life did he realize that his family was actually holding back.
A cross between The Night They Raided Minsky's and Guys and Dolls, Freeman Bernstein's life was itself an old New York sideshow extravaganza, one that Shapiro expertly stages in Hustling Hitler. From a ragtag childhood in Troy, New York, Shapiro follows his great-uncle's ever-crooked trajectory through show business, from his early schemes on the burlesque circuit to marrying his star performer, May Ward, and producing silent films released only in Philadelphia. Of course, all of Freeman's cons and schemes were simply a prelude to February 18, 1937, the day he was arrested by the LAPD outside of Mae West's apartment in Hollywood. The charge? Grand larceny-for cheating Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government.
When my cat walked on my iPad and lost my place in the book, I realized that I didn't really want to try and find it again. Never got to the part about Hitler. Just one half baked scheme after another, with little variation. Character never became interesting or real to me
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
The story is less than engaging. For anyone over 75, it'll have plenty of names that you'd remember from Hollywood and the movies, actors and actress' of that time period. The story sounded engaging, particularly from the piece on NPR that drove me to buy the book. However, it takes FOREVER to get moving. The narration is somewhat shy of a carnival barker, but even less entertaining.
What do you think your next listen will be?
Nothing from this author, or the narrator. Ever.
How could the performance have been better?
A more engaging story, faster pace, and less 'name dropping' of people that anyone under 70 would most likely never get. It had such promise to, I mean really who wouldn't enjoy hearing a story about swindling Hilter.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
Any additional comments?
If you are thinking you're going to get a jaw dropping narrative on swindling Hilter, forget about it. You get a long winded blovation about a 2 bit hustler, and about 10 hours of setup for very little payoff. Writer needs to learn about pacing and keeping the audience interested. I had hoped for much better.