Published Date: 30 January 2011
By Lee Randall
BY Nelson Johnson
Ebury Press, 312pp, £16.99
Looking for two words to sum up Atlantic City, New Jersey? They’d have to be “sea” and “sin,” especially when describing its heyday in the first half of the 20th century. Not only were normal rules of decorum suspended, even Federal law didn’t take hold: Prohibition never happened there. The economy was dependent on tourism, so the city pandered to visitors, and as one long-time resident said: “If the people who came to town had wanted Bible readings, we’d have given ’em that. But nobody ever asked for Bible readings. They wanted booze, broads, and gambling, so that’s what we gave ’em.”
As a lawyer for Atlantic City’s planning board in the 1980s, when applications for many of the casinos were being approved, Nelson Johnson – now a Superior Court Judge – grew fascinated by the resort’s complicated history. He spent 20 years fact-finding and interviewing eye-witnesses, a task he describes as “a race against death”. Many key sources were elderly and initially reticent. He was persistent, and the pay-off, Boardwalk Empire, benefits from the wealth of detail he unearthed or scrupulously verified. Johnson moves with a reasonable degree of grace between novelistic scenes and straightforward factual reportage. Many of these facts are so eye-popping that they require no further embellishment.
Read the rest of Lee Randall’s review at Scotsman.com News.