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Editorial Reviews

The choice of opening music for this recording of Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire is telling: though the book charts the rise and fall of Atlantic City from its beginnings as a shyster health resort in the late 19th century through the Donald Trump years to the beginning of the new millennium, the Jazz-age ragtime announces the real crux of this sprawling epic — the age of prohibition, gambling, and mob protection. These transgressive themes are woven throughout the city's history as well as (the author tacitly implies) the recent history of the United States. Johnson shows how Atlantic City was one of the cradles of the American mafia as it served as an entry point to those wanting to get around prohibition (including a young Al Capone), and played host to a cast of Damon Runyon-esque characters.

Overseeing it all was the archetypal character of Enoch "Nucky" Johnson: half politician, half underworld boss, his career "personifies the greed, corruption, and high times that were of Atlantic City in its days of glory". His ties with the Republican Party and invites to the White House are a case study in official corruption, and his personality is nailed down here to memorable effect: he was "a master at holding the hand of a widow and whispering gently what a fine man her husband was".

Many will be drawn to this book on the basis of the Scorsese-produced HBO series, though they should be forewarned that Boardwalk Empire can be exhaustive in its cataloging of each step of the myriad legal processes that variously built up and tore down the antiheroes of Atlantic City; the author was professionally involved for several decades in the city's politics, and it shows on more than one occasion. But luckily for the listener, Joe Mantegna's voice immediately and effortlessly invests each word with sly insinuation and more than a hint of malevolence. He's particularly good at hinting at the self-serving and dishonest motivations behind acts of public munificence, as his voice becomes a knowing wink, a secret handshake turned into sound. His narration makes an offer you can't refuse, and at its considerable best the result is along the lines of Citizen Kane as narrated by The Simpsons’ Fat Tony (another Mantegna performance). —DafyddPhillips

Publisher's Summary

Earphones Award Winner (AudioFile Magazine)

From its inception, Atlantic City has always been a town dedicated to the fast buck, and this wide-reaching history offers a riveting account of its past 100 years, from the city's heyday as a Prohibition-era mecca of lawlessness to its rebirth as a legitimate casino resort in the modern era.

A colorful cast of characters, led by Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, populates this stranger-than-fiction account of corrupt politics and the toxic power structure that grew out of guile, finesse, and extortion. Atlantic City's shadowy past through its rise, fall, and rebirth is given new light in this revealing, and often appalling, study of legislative abuse and organized crime.

This audiobook, narrated by Joe Mantegna, is the true story that inspired the upcoming HBO series of the same name. It includes a foreword written and narrated by Terence Winter.

©2009 Nelson Johnson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Joe Mantegna's steady, unaffected reading of Johnson's history of Atlantic City is a model of good audiobook narration. Mantegna seems the perfect choice for this title, a solid professional whose voice is tuned to both the drama of individual moments and the rising and falling arcs of the narrative as a whole." (AudioFile)

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  • Frances
  • Upper Montclair, NJ, United States
  • 08-12-10

I love stories steeped in History

Living in NJ, I found this story particularly interesting because Altantic City has had so many chapters to its history. I even know several surviving Pitneys and the tale they tell of their early ancestor corroborates this account. Mr. Montegna does a wonderful job. I thinking hearing this lays a terrific groundwork for the HBO series I'm looking forward to seeing this Fall.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Steven
  • PHILADELPHIA, PA, United States
  • 08-07-10

The Unmasked History of Atlantic City

I've been going to Atlantic City since the early 1960's. I know the place reasonably well for a tourist.
I had little idea of the history of the place, and the role politics played, until listening to this book.

If you like history, and politics, and are curious about Atlantic City, you'll like this book. The real life history of the political bosses that controlled Atlantic City from its founding after the civil war to modern times is better than fiction. The narration is good.

It seems that the author may have fallen in love with his subjects. His admiration for the corrupt political bosses seems a little curious.- although not a reason to not read the book

Since there aren't a lot of other histories of Atlantic City its hard to judge the historical accuracy. Some of the modern history was left out, particularly how Trump had a Wall St. analyst fired (Rothman) for predicting that his casinos were treading on thin ice. Rothman was right, as Trump's subsequent bankruptcy proved. Does he admire Trump a little too much? Trump wasted a ton of money on the Taj Mahal, by insisting on things like genuine imported marble be used in its interior, - for what? - for the scores of poor, recently arrived Russian immigrants who came down from Philly on buses and then ate their brown bagged lunches in Trump's gaudy monument to himself? -

The author's conclusion that the casinos should get together and sponsor air travel, to revitalize the resort, certainly is something that Gov. Christie should consider.

33 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

This was NEVER in "History of NJ" in 4th Grade ...

When I was in 4th grade, we had to pass "History of NJ." It was a boring class and one student even asked the teacher why we had to learn it. Our teacher told us we had to pass this course to be promoted to 5th grade. And we had to learn history because it was important to us so we would grow up to be informed and intelligent citizens who could vote responsibly. **sigh** If only that was really true ... However, when I listened to the foreward of this book, I recognized one name -- Hap Farley. I grew up just 10 miles from Atlantic City and my grandfather ran a roofing business there for many years, as well as inland tourist cabins. Just about everything I've heard in this book is new to me. One Canadian reviewer found the book boring and slow. I find it fascinating ...
My only complaint so far (I'm still listening to the first part) is that (as with any audio book) producers and readers need to familiarize themselves with LOCAL pronunciations. For example, Absecon has its accent on the second syllable and the 3rd is pronounced "kin" not "con;" Absegami is Ab-see-gah (as in gash not gosh) -mee; etc.
I recommend the book highly, even if you don't have a connection to southern NJ -- though I think people who are familiar with the locations and people in the "tale" will find it most interesting.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


We're "hooked" on the tv series so I had to listen to the book since I was too impatient to wait for the next episode! Turns out the tv version and the book have very little in common, but it's ok - the book was excellent and the tv series is excellent; they're just very different.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not what I expected

I was expecting something quite different but regardless it was engrossing and enjoyable. Narration is outstanding and you won't be disppointed. I look forward to the HBO series.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • BROOKLYN CENTER, MN, United States
  • 08-13-10

Boardwalk Empire

I am an American History sponge, a boomer, and proud American. What is written in this book is not surprising. I grew up in a small town in Illinois and we also had our corruption. The State Trooper taking bribes to not give speeding tickets, the local bookie the county could not seat a jury to try him because everyone knew him, the city council meeting in the mayor's store back room then going to the city hall to vote. In those days as described in this book happened all over America in that time in history and still happens today. Great read, great narrator!

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not The TV Show

If your read this book, do not expect it to be anything like the HBO series of the same name. However, you will know way, way more about most of the characters in the HBO show than your friends. Then you can tell them all about who the Commodore was in real life and they can think you are either really smart or a know-it-all.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Milton
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 08-16-10

What was known to all unveiled.

I grew up in the city in the 60's so I took special pleasure in this historical account. This is a start to present day account of a city with a single goal in mind. Make as much money as you can in ten weeks. How things worked were out in the open and known to all the locals. Payoffs, protection, numbers and vice were part of life and even school children were aware of it. This book deals with the power brokers and politics on top of the whole thing and clarified for me why it all worked as well as it did. I imagine HBO will give us the grit, glamore and stories that were the daily life of the residents and visitors. I loved going up there and to know the whole history give my experience a context. The reader was clear and pace was perfect. I may get a hard copy to do further research. So many names were familiar to me.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

History made interesting

A contemporaty history with names and places that are part of my life. Narration was by a favorite reader. What is told of our history then, is3playing out in our Government at all levels today. As the old saying goes, if we do not read and understand history, be are bound to repeat it. Walt Doelp

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

The Biography of a City

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Mr. Johnson writes with authority about the reasons the city was founded, how those ideals were corrupted and the types of people that drive a city, perhaps any city. I think the book is not so much a cautionary tale as a candid one.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Frank Farley was such a quintessential hypocrite he left me cynical about all politics. The idea that the ice cream and hot dog concessions in one city were controlled by an organization ruled by one man and no one could get ice cream to sell without getting it from him and every scoop sold ALSO put money into his pocket made me wonder about the people selling ice cream around me.

Which character – as performed by Joe Mantegna and Terence Winter (foreword) – was your favorite?

Mantagna was an excellent choice to read this book. His voice is familiar and very pleasant to listen to. He did his research and correctly pronounced the names and locations referred to. While he made the characters distinct he has the wisdom not to over-do it. You can always understand what he's saying. This is a well-written piece of non-fiction. The author injects very few fiction-style dialogues giving an air of serious research to this book. These facts made Mr. Mantagna's job easier as well as giving the reader confidence that this is a well-documented account of history.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many moving accounts. Enoch Johnson's prison term, marriage, and long life was very moving at the end of the sequence about him. Farley's final defeat was terrific. The Democratic convention and the disheveled description of the city at that time was very powerful. The people and events that led to the legalization of gambling in the city was fascinating.

Any additional comments?

This was one of the two or three great pieces of non-fiction I've read this year. It really has very little to do with the TV show (which I think is excellent) that shares the title. I enjoyed this book on an entirely different level than the TV show.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mikey
  • 08-10-14

Note: This is NOT a fictional novel!

Any additional comments?

Having read some previous reviews for this audiobook, I saw that some people had bought this thinking it was the original story book for the HBO TV series, and I think they expected a novel that was more of a fictional storybook. Although it is not a fictional story, if you are a fan of the BE series or if you are interested in the roaring 1920s era, I would still recommend that you try this book. In fact, even if you are not particularly interested in this era, I think it is definitely worth giving this book a listen!

I was hooked from the start, the author did his homework and I would definitely recommend this to my friends; of all ages and interests.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-13-17

A must listen for any aspiring politician

A really interesting and impressively researched history of a modern American town. The breadth and depth of analysis is told in a very accessible way, bringing the listener right through the history of Atlantic City.

  • Overall
  • Meena
  • 06-08-11

Good Book

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. Thanks to Audible for having this in store.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian or Jenna
  • 12-26-13


I was expecting a fast paced novel on which the TV series of the same name was based. Instead, this book is a narrative and not all that edifying really. I returned it.


1 of 4 people found this review helpful