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Legs (The Albany Cycle #1)

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  1,349 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Legs, the inaugural book in William Kennedy’s acclaimed Albany cycle of novels, brilliantly evokes the flamboyant career of gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond.  Through the equivocal eyes of Diamond’s attorney, Marcus Gorman (who scraps a promising political career for the more elemental excitement of the criminal underworld), we watch as Legs and his showgirl mistress, Kiki Rob ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 27th 1983 by Penguin Books (first published 1975)
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Jul 02, 2012 Maynard rated it it was amazing
I am on a streak of five-star books. Of course, when one reads William Kennedy, one knows they are reading one of the all-time great writers. As the back cover tells us, "Legs inaugurated William Kennedy's brilliant cycle of novels. "Legs" is Jack Diamond, gangster, tough guy, bootlegger, lady charmer and brutal murderer. The story is told from the point of view of Diamond's attorney, Marcus Gorman, who exchanges a potential political career to view the mayhem around Diamond's life. It was a tri ...more
Brady Dale
Nov 11, 2010 Brady Dale rated it it was ok
I had been interested in reading William Kennedy's trilogy about upstate New York for a long time, but this is one of those novels that has less of a plot than a biography that is written like a novel. I think when novelists rise to a certain stature, no one asks them to cut the fat anymore. This is a three-million-times told story of the fancy gangster with the hot mistress and the loving wife and people who love him even tho he's really bad. Nothing remarkable here, to me. The narrator is the ...more
May 14, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a great quote from the book, "I am bored by people who keep returning life to a moral plane, as if we were reducible, now, to some Biblical concept or it’s opposite, as if all our history and prehistory had not conditioned us for what we’ve become. When we get off the moral gold standard, when the man of enormous wealth is of no more importance to anybody than the man in rags, then maybe we’ll look at our own day as a day justifiable social wrath."
Graham P
Jun 26, 2013 Graham P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intimate yet soaring novel about the last years of notorious booze-runner, Legs Diamond. William Kennedy's first entry into the Albany Cycle, this novel is narrated by the playful and sharp-tongued attorney, Marcus Gorman, and the in typical Kennedy fashion, the story bounces around from past to present, sometimes within the same sentence. What may infuriate some traditional readers made me re-read passages with awe and wonder. There is such a beauty to Kennedy's rhythm to this tale of a like ...more
Apr 08, 2013 Kira rated it liked it
This intelligently written portrait submerges its reader into the world of the prohibition gangster Jack Diamond through the lens of his lawyer, Marcus. It follows Jack's complex love for both his wife and his mistress, his grand plans and the seemingly small things that would eventually derail him. The book establishes its title character as a man married to his myth; he doesn't believe, entirely, that he is this high velocity murderer, ruthless bootlegger the media portrays him, but he certain ...more
Aug 21, 2008 David rated it really liked it
Kennedy creates the world of Legs so vividly, I feel like I'm there. Not that I'm an expert on the world of bootleggers during prohibition, but it seems perfect to me. Even beyond that, though, Kennedy gets to the heart of the yearning of his characters. What they hope for. What they dream. How their lives change and acquire meaning as life denies those hopes and dreams. This is a great book for the world is recreates, but an even better one for the human core of the characters in that world tha ...more
Jennifer S. Brown
Jul 24, 2016 Jennifer S. Brown rated it really liked it
This fictional story of real-life gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond was gorgeously written. Kennedy's prose is incredible, although at times the action was gritty enough that I felt like I wanted to cover my eyes, as if I were watching a movie, so as to only halfway see the gory stuff.

The chronology bounces around a little and it's so hard to keep track of all the gangsters--who is on who's side and who owes money to whom and the like. But the story is fast-paced and gave a real insight to the less-
Jordan West
Jul 21, 2015 Jordan West rated it liked it
Probably at least a 3.5, this is an entertaining portrayal of an iconic gangster that explores the iconography of gangsters which I would have perhaps rated higher if I hadn't read Doctorow's similarly-themed Billy Bathgate at the start of the year; the stylistic voice and analyses of crime and human violence captured in that novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy at his best, overshadowed Kennedy's book for me.
Nov 21, 2008 Greg rated it liked it
Not as good as Ironweed, but still interesting. I was interrupted by life a couple of times while reading it, which may have had an unfair effect on my opinion of it. But if you like well-written gangster stories, this is for you.
Bradley Cox
Feb 07, 2017 Bradley Cox rated it really liked it
My favorite and most accessible of the Albany trilogy.
Mar 11, 2017 Sue rated it liked it
1st book is Kennedy's Albany series. Since we live near there, thought I should read it. While I enjoy his writing, the subject matter of this gangster tale didn't hold my interest - broads, bootlegging, violence. Local legend Jack "Legs" Diamond surely had nine lives.
As other reviewers have mentioned, LEGS is the first of William Kennedy's 'Albany cycle', a series of eight books set in and around the city of Albany, N.Y. LEGS is the story of Jack 'Legs' Diamond, notorious gangster and bootlegger of the 1920's who was murdered in an Albany apartment in 1931 by two unidentified men who were finally able to put down 'the most shot at man in America'. Kennedy's portrayal of Diamond is nuanced, complex--beginning at the height of Diamond's popularity and power, t ...more
Chris Gager
Apr 16, 2014 Chris Gager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first of the Albany trilogy will be the last read for me but I will read it sometime soon.

And now I'm doing it. This book was actually on my to-read shelf and I picked it up somewhere... maybe the local transfer station - a gold mine of free books! I've read "Ironweed" and "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" so I'm going to go ahead and give a 4* rating(for starters) to the last of the Albany trilogy. Already the tone of the book's been set. Jack Diamond is a violent, charismatic SOB. Warren Beat
Paul Apsley
Mar 07, 2017 Paul Apsley rated it really liked it
Interesting account of Legs Diamond, the gangster. Not sure how realistic it is, but a good read nonetheless.
Jun 19, 2013 Dawn rated it it was ok
Legs Tries:
Jack "Legs" Diamond spends 300+ pages trying to make the world work in his favor. He tries to set up a bootlegging monopoly in upstate New York. He tries to keep his freedom. He tries to get his wife and his mistress to get along. He tries to stay alive so he can keep trying. Yet, even when Jack got his way, he still managed to fail.
The same can be said of William Kennedy's LEGS, a fictionalization of the life leading up to the court trails and eventual murder of the non fictional J
Jul 08, 2013 Robert rated it it was amazing
I came to read William Kennedy's Legs after a Wikipedia browse. Having read a recommendation of E.L. Doctorow's 'Ragtime', that book's Wikipedia article led me to the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (Ragtime is No.86 on that list) and 'Ironweed' by William Kennedy, published in 1983 is the the "most recent novel in the list".

I discovered that Ironweed was the third book (of seven) in the 'Albany cycle', and, nothing if not a completist, decided to make all 7 books in the cycle my summer reading.

Mark Desrosiers
Sep 30, 2008 Mark Desrosiers rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, crime
Wonderful fictional memoir of bootlegger Jack "Legs" Diamond, as told by his lawyer (!) Marcus Gorman. Obviously this means you are saddled with an unreliable narrator -- not to mention one who tries to go all naturalistic and tropey like Saul Bellow -- but I dig Marcus's (and Kennedy's) admiration for Diamond's fearless womanizing, statute-shredding, and bullet-swallowing. A very likeable guy, he turns out:

Jack lived a long time, for Jack, and I credit it to his sense of balance, even in viole
Tom Gase
Nov 19, 2012 Tom Gase rated it really liked it
I thought this book was closer to a 3.5 star worthy read, but I gave it four. Seems like a combination of the Great Gatsby meets the Godfather. This is the first of the Albany novels by William Kennedy, who also did a good job with Billy Phelan's Greatest Game and Ironweed. Unfortantely, I didn't know these were a trilogy until about seven months ago when reading Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, so I read these three books backwards. Someday I'll reread them again in order. Still I have to thank my ...more
May 05, 2011 Ben rated it liked it
Marked by Kennedy's wit, charm, and smooth prose, but not as engaging as "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game." I felt the book was a little too long and had to drag myself through the end as the author gets verbose about what it all means. Marcus Gorman, the narrator, begins the story as the reader's surrogate, but by the end has been (in my opinion) corrupted and twisted by what he's seen and done, so that by the end he's constantly apologizing for Jack Diamond and condescending to the "self-righteou ...more
Tom Quinn
Aug 20, 2013 Tom Quinn rated it it was ok
Shelves: mob
Tough to summarize my feelings on this book. I think Kennedy's style doesn't fit with me. I enjoyed the book, but never got fully invested due to the way the story is told. The story is told from the perspective of the lawyer, but you never really get to know him. He spends too much time explicitly describing philosophical character traits that I enjoy best left understated.

The best metaphor for me is a band like Led Zeplin. I don't dislike their music. I understand why people love them. I can
Jul 30, 2011 Chortle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artsy,
Many have said this is a typical gangster book. The Great Gatsby is a book about a gangster. So, while it is book about gangsters it has lots of art to it and it is not all about the action, shock value and violence. But there certainly is shock value and violence. Brilliant book. William Kennedy portrays the colloquialisms (and classic phrases) of his characters -a strongpoint and very, very entertaining -as if he actually lived with them. Very poetic.
Ez read, very humorous. I will reread this
Dec 14, 2010 Carol added it
Shelves: owned
Aside from knowing the author as a pompous twit, I find the book to be typical gangster fare with the note that animal lovers of any kind should avoid reading this
as every beast mentioned in the thing dies by violence (birds, cats, dogs, every hapless little thing suffers).

It contains enough literary allusions to do credit to the pompous author's tastes and enough about the areas of Albany, the Catskills and other stretches near
the Hudson to be interesting for those who like to see familiar pla
Aug 05, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it
Following “Legs” Diamond through the last year or so of his life up to his gangland-style murder in a version that falls somewhere on the spectrum between somewhat and highly fictionalized, Kennedy’s book makes for great reading and an interesting view of the early depression years, Irish gangsters, and the fascination of both the public and his immediate circle with a charismatic, somewhat thoughtful but totally amoral thief, extortionist, bootlegger and killer.
Emi Bevacqua
Feb 12, 2012 Emi Bevacqua rated it liked it
Straight-forward story of Jack "Legs" Diamond who left Philadelphia as a boy for gangland New York, eventually becoming upstate New York's big celebrity. The narrator is his attorney Marcus Gorman. Diamond narrowly escaped death a few times, surviving shootouts, assassination attempts, and the wrath of his wife Alice and many girlfriends. This book won a Pulitzer prize and is the first of 3 books known as the Albany Cycle.
Oct 10, 2015 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is a story about Legs Diamond, a gangster of the 1920's. It reads like a fiction though, because not much is known about the man.
Basically a rum-runner, Legs was married and had a mistress. The rest of the book showcases the fact that Legs couldn't be killed, or at least the fact that many tried but Legs always survived, even when the time he was shot seven times and lived.
Overall, this book was at the very least, interesting. Give this book a try. 4 stars
Also recommend:

Whiskey River by Loren D. Estleman
Billy Bathgate by EL Doctrow
Pretty Boy Floyd by Larry McMautry

Pretty good. Not as layered as Kennedy's classic Ironweed, but still a good read.

Kennedy creates interesting, real characters, especially Legs' lawyer who provides a unique perspective while also being not just a neutral narrator.

Kennedy also creates interesting characters in the two women fighting for Legs' affection.
Dec 17, 2014 henrys-axe rated it really liked it
The Prohibition Era often offers exciting tales of gangsters, speakeasies, molls and shootouts. Legs offers a tad bit more - an Albany, New York lawyer's account of his relationship with Jack "Leg" Diamond. Author William Kennedy, himself a longtime Albany native, has an unforgettable writing style that is certain to involve the reader in the treacherous life of bootleggers. is the first offering in Kennedy's trilogy of life cycles in Albany and surrounding areas.
Aug 14, 2008 Ben added it
A story about the flesh-and-blood gangster bootlegger of the Catskills. Thoroughly enjoyed. As I did other Kennedy novels "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" and "Ironweed". Jack "Legs" Diamond, our infamous hero, is portrayed as an eccentric, all-consuming, big-lifer in the manner of other Kennedy protagonists - comprehensively. After reading "Legs", a by-the-book biography might be a serious letdown.
Thomas Ferris
Nov 01, 2015 Thomas Ferris rated it really liked it
For any Upstater, the real joy in this book is the frequent references to the counties, towns, hotels and bars that snake between the Catskills and Albany. Throw in a bonafide 20th Century gangster, and you have a winning formula. Kennedy writes in a straight-forward manner that makes the read easy and enjoyable historical fiction.
Sep 21, 2012 Thomas rated it liked it
Conspicuously literate. This is highbrow bar conversation written out in novel form. Its greatest drawback is that every time you put the book down, you lose your place. If you try to skim it, you lose the meaning. If I ever go on to reading the other two books in this trilogy, it'll happen when I'm alone on a desert island with no distractions.
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William Joseph Kennedy is an American writer and journalist born and raised in Albany, New York. Many of his novels feature the interaction of members of the fictional Irish-American Phelan family, and make use of incidents of Albany's history and the supernatural.

Kennedy's works include The Ink Truck (1969), Legs (1975), Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978), Ironweed (1983, winner of 1984 Pulitze
More about William Kennedy...

Other Books in the Series

The Albany Cycle (8 books)
  • Billy Phelan's Greatest Game
  • Ironweed
  • Quinn's Book
  • Very Old Bones
  • The Flaming Corsage
  • Roscoe
  • Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes

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“I liked all their lies best, for I think they are the brightest part of anybody's history.” 1 likes
“But fear is a cheap emotion, however full of wisdom. And, emotionally speaking, I've always thought of myself as a man of expensive taste.” 0 likes
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