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Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City

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3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  2,162 Ratings  ·  298 Reviews
Providing the inspiration and source material for the upcoming HBO series produced by Academy Award–winning director Martin Scorsese and Emmy Award–winning screenwriter Terence Winter, this riveting and wide-reaching history explores the sordid past of Atlantic City—forever a freewheeling town long-dedicated to the fast buck—from the city's heyday as a Prohibition-era mecc ...more
ebook, TV Tie-in Edition, 337 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Medford Press (first published July 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Kemper
If fans of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire read this hoping just for more stories about corrupt politicians, gangsters, bootlegging, sex, violence, and a disfigured hit man, they’re probably going to be disappointed. However, anyone looking for an interesting history of Atlantic City from its humble beginnings of a second rate resort town through it’s glory days of as a popular destination point during Prohibition because of it’s total unwillingness to enforce anti-booze laws to it’s current sta ...more
The Library Lady
No, this isn't a pot boiler full of sex, violence and perfect looking people. That's the highly entertaining, fiction based on fact TV series, and this is not the novelization of that show.

What this is is the whole history of Atlantic City, from its founding as a health resort, its success mainly as a resort for working class folk from Philadelphia, its golden age under "Nucky" Johnson (NOT "Thompson"), its post-prohibition fall that continued for decades, and its rebirth as a casino resort town
...more
Eric_W
Apr 29, 2015 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the book the HBO series used for its basis. Contrary to popular myth, Atlantic City was not a summer playground for the rich but rather a working class getaway that catered to every illicit whim. Brothels and gambling flourished, but Prohibition really made Atlantic City famous and rich. Under “Nucky” Johnson, the “Commodore’s successor, anything nominally illegal elsewhere could be had in Atlantic City. “A naughty time at an affordable price.”

The short history of Atlantic City presented
...more
John Hood
Jan 31, 2011 John Hood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bound: City of Swing
SunPost Weekly September 16, 2010 | John Hood
http://bit.ly/90vmwP

Getting with the Book behind Boardwalk Empire

The 500 Club, Paradise Café, Club Harlem, Little Belmont, The Bath and Turf Club, the Cliquot Club… just saying names of these fabled swing spots evokes an era of high vice and low blows. These were gambling dens, before the era of casinos, yet run wide open. Why? Because in Prohibition era Atlantic City, what was once vice was now habit and it wouldn’t be broken for
...more
Ryan
Sep 23, 2010 Ryan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you are planning to read this book for supplemental background for the HBO show, don't bother. This book is more of a concise history of the city than a focus piece on Nucky and the players of that time. Only roughly 3 chapters cover the Nucky era and there's no depth at all. A few quotes here and a 3 sentence Al Capone story there. The only depth is spent on descriptions of attempted indictments and trials. It really doesn't do much to expound on the players of the time or specifics of the c ...more
Julie
Apr 05, 2011 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Boardwalk Empire is an interesting, and enjoyable, if rather uneven, read. Victims of this, most recent, recession economy will undoubtedly be interested to know that Atlantic City’s initial development and success was brought on, not by the nation’s wealthiest vacations, but rather, by blue collar workers and wage earners, eager for a weekend getaway they could afford. The resort’s unique and complicated relationship with minority workers during that time, also makes for rather fascinating read ...more
Michael
Atlantic City has quite a history, from the rocky beginnings to its colourful characters like Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson (subtitle: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City) tells the history of this US city. While this book inspired the current HBO series of the same name, this is not a reason to read this. The HBO show tells the story of a fictional character based on Nucky Johnson (called Nucky Thompson in the show). I ...more
Janell
Sep 06, 2012 Janell rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American political history scholars, fans of the TV series "Boardwalk Empire"
I'm sure that readers of in-depth, detailed political history will find this book fascinating from cover to cover. Because I am not quite the "in-depth political history scholar", I didn't find the entire book so much fascinating as I found it to be long-winded.

That said, there were in-depth parts of the book I did like. These were the parts that focused more on the characters I was familiar with as a fan of the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire".

It was interesting to find out how Atlantic City star
...more
Manny
Jul 31, 2012 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are looking for a book to mirror the HBO series, continue to look. I must admit, it was what I was looking for. I wanted more insight on Enoch "Nucky" Johnson AKA Nucky Thompson. Although it was not that, I was pleasantly surprised.

Very interesting book about the rise, fall and rise again of Atlantic City, New Jersey or formally known as the Island of Absegami. Although it does spend a considerable time on Enoch "Nucky" Johnson and his predecessor, Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle, it delved int
...more
Ian
Dec 10, 2010 Ian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Admittedly, I picked this book up because of the tv show, since I was curious to find out just how much of it was based on actual fact. After reading it, I can say that the producers have generally stuck to the spirit, if not the letter, of the historical record, and although they've taken a fair bit of dramatic license with the material, it's not because Atlantic City's history lacks drama. From its early days, when it was planned as an upper-crust health resort (something that went by the boar ...more
Bryan
Dec 13, 2012 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're a fan of the HBO series based on this book, as I am, you may or may not be surprised to find that this is a serious history, and a good one.

The book covers the entire history of the city. Early chapters run from its founding (when horses were bitten to death by stinging flies that bred in the undrained tide pools), through the establishment of the railroads, the early tourist industry, and the predominantly Black working class that made it run, and the rise of the Republican/mafia mac
...more
Toni
Oct 29, 2012 Toni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first 3/4 of this book quite a bit. As an island and a city dedicated to "sin" and vice, it's one of the most interesting places to study how the political boss system worked. Obviously, every city had political bosses in that era, but other cities managed to have other industries and usually two political bosses, but not AC, so it was really fascinating to see how deep and widespread the corruption could really get.

The last quarter of the book really lost my interest. Since Trump
...more
Barbara VA
I've started going to Atlantic City when I was about 5 from New York with my parents, so I saw the city thru the early 60's and into the late. We would pass hotels and clubs and they would tell me who they saw perform, enjoyed the diving horse on the Steel Pier and swam in the ocean. By the time I was a teen they felt it was not a safe place to go anymore, so I messed the building of the casinos but do remember reading all about it. I am still an east Coaster and I finally had a chance to visit ...more
Lauren Albert
Nov 30, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-american
The cheesy cover on my edition does a disservice to this interesting history of Atlantic City from its beginnings as an idea in the mind of an overworked and underpaid doctor in 19th century New Jersey. It is about more than corruption and organized crime--Johnson shows us how the City got its start from the building of rail tracks and its sordid fall from the boom in car ownership and the ending of prohibition. Along the way he relates the changing race relations in the city and the early segre ...more
Kelly
Mar 19, 2012 Kelly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I really wanted to like this book, but I eventually had to abandon it. I knew going in that it wasn't a novelization of the hit HBO show. I didn't mind; in fact, I welcomed it as I like non-fiction and wanted to learn more about the history of Atlantic City. But the book is so dry... I had a really hard time getting interested in it. (view spoiler) ...more
Rishard
Aug 15, 2010 Rishard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After seeing the trailers for the upcoming HBO show I had to read the book, and I’m glad I did. Its a really good look at the history of Atlantic City for over 150 years. The TV series I think is just going to cover a small sliver in time while the book covers everything from construction to around where we are now.

Its told in a documentary/history style, and not so much as a novel. There was a TON of things that I didn’t know, and I’m glad I now do. I highly recommend checking it out and I ca
...more
Ken Lawrence
Dec 25, 2012 Ken Lawrence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Boardwalk Empire is a fascinating true history of Atlantic City's birth and development through the 20th Century. It's the basis for the HBO series but it's more entertaining because it's all true. The intersection of politics and racketeering in running the city is unbelievable. Fans of the series might be disappointed that it's not all about Nucky but it's a good read for any fan of politics, gangsters, cities and the Shore.
Beth
Jan 05, 2013 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read about the history of Atlantic City. As others mentioned I enjoyed the first half to two thirds the latter was a bit less intriguing and more a listing of corrupt politicians who controlled the city. It did make me think as it sure seemed AC faired much better under corrupt regimes than honest ones.
April
Oct 12, 2013 April rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essentially Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson takes you through the inception of Atlantic City - when it's founded all the way through modern day. Read my review here
Jennifer
I've never watched the television series, so I can't compare the two. I found this a bit dull. It contained a lot of information, but it just wasn't presented in a way that brought it to life. I'm disappointed.
Chris
Oct 16, 2015 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, covers the lifetime of Atlantic City, from its inception through Trump and the modern day, not just the Nucky Johnson (still looks weird even after finishing the book) era.
Joel Arnold
I grabbed this book because it was on sale for the Kindle. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quite entertaining, it gets you to the inside of what built the city, how it ran during its most corrupt period, how it almost died, and how it came back into prominence. In the process, it gave me a real sense of how corruption and graft has worked within our own culture in the past.

A few excerpts:

When it came to illegal booze, there was probably no place in the country as wide open as Nucky’s town. It was almos
...more
Samuel Maina

Honestly, I feel like I know the whole history of Atlantic City. Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese did a fantastic job of converting this book to a HBO series.
It is a long history and I particularly noted the rail development period was by-passed….it is very rich history and you can easily tell that Nelson Johnson is at home when narrating this.
You cannot believe that the Atlantic city…..in the Summer 1858 saw a plague of insects that nearly closed the resort down. For the next 10 to 15 years,
...more
Lance Carney
Feb 10, 2017 Lance Carney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Corruption in Atlantic City? Sure, the whole town was funded by extortion, payoffs from gambling, illegal liquor during Prohibition, even prostitution—but one particular monopoly detailed in the book shows the depths of depravity. In the ‘50s and ‘60s there was an ice cream monopoly—no independents were allowed and the kickbacks from all ice cream sales lined the pockets of one of the prominent politicians of the time. Only in Atlantic City.

My wife and I have watched the first four seasons of th
...more
Kenneth Clark
I really enjoyed this book. It's a little slow at times, rushes past the details that I would have enjoyed a deeper, more narrative type of telling, but overall it was a pleasure to read. This book is a history of Atlantic City, the HBO series was named after this book. This is not a novelization of that series, nor is the book solely about Nucky Johnson or prohibition. Nucky is featured in 2 chapters as he is only a part of this story. The book goes back to the conceptualization of Atlantic Cit ...more
Kristen
Oct 19, 2016 Kristen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a (very long and boring) laundry list of facts about Atlantic City.
Brittany
Feb 11, 2011 Brittany rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Debatably people who have a strong interest in American history.
Shelves: nonfiction, tv-show
How I Came To Read This Book: I watched the show over one sweet week and was hooked enough to seek out the book.

The Plot: This really is the life and not-quite-death of Atlantic City. From its unlikely birth at the dawn of the railroad through to its glory days as the original city of vice, followed by a continual evolution and struggle to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive tourist market, the book details the social, political, and mobster influences on Vegas' ugly cousin over the 100
...more
Scott
Mar 03, 2017 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of Atlantic City from its first founding till around the early 2000s. This book was the inspiration for the HBO series. Dives into some of the pervasive corruption and political machinations of bosses over the years. Good stuff.
Antonella
Mar 01, 2017 Antonella marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-to-serie


I NEED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Nelson Johnson, whose family’s presence in Atlantic County predates the founding of Atlantic City, is a lifelong resident of Hammonton, New Jersey. He practiced law for 30 years and was active in Atlantic City and Atlantic County politics through much of that period.

As attorney for the Atlantic City Planning Board at the time of the approvals for many of the casinos, Johnson was inspired first to
...more
More about Nelson Johnson...

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“businessmen learned quickly that working-class tourists had money to spend, too. What they lacked in sophistication they made up for in numbers.” 1 likes
“Despite today’s notions of Atlantic City as a vacation spot for the wealthy, the resort could never have survived by catering to the upper class. It was the lower-middle and lower classes that were the lifeblood of Atlantic City. They comprised the great mass of visitors to the resort and the rates of most rooms were structured for them.” 0 likes
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