Book Review: Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A complete history of organized crime in Chicago during prohibitionScarface and the untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the battle for Chicago

AuthorArthur J. Lurigio
Published date01 June 2023
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Roughly the same time period is covered in Chapter 3 but from the perspective of clemency,
whether granted by the governor or juries. Kotch suggests this was due to the harsh mandatory
capital sentences in place (e.g., burglary was a capital offense until 1941) and the courtsgeneral
refusal to rehear cases in light of new evidence. This experiment in nonexecutionis further
explored in Chapter 4, which outlines the public criticisms of anti-death penalty activists such as
Henry Canf‌ield, Nell Battle Lewis, and Paul Green.
At the same time, White juries continued to sentence Black citizens to death, and polls showed that a
clear majority of the public supported the death penalty for murder. This hints at the backlash to come,
which is the subject of Chapter 5. Indeed, when the Supreme Court declared capital punishment as
enacted unconstitutional in 1972, the state acted swiftly and surely to reform and reinstate it. In turn, exe-
cutions resumed, though with somewhat diminished vigor. Despite more reforms, including the move to
lethal injection and state laws that made it more likelytooverturncasesbasedon racial discrimination, it
is clear that many Americans, and especially White Americans, continued to have a taste for blood.
Although the book skims quickly over the last few decades, readers will be better prepared to
understand the current controversies surrounding capital punishment, particularly with respect to
racial bias. As a result, it would be well suited for undergraduates, but also death penalty scholars
interested in how capital punishment has evolved over time in a single state. Nonetheless, and
perhaps because he is so well versed on the subject, Kotch occasionally gets distracted by interesting
but extraneous issues, such as prison conditions, or Thomas Edisons personal push for electrocution.
Instead, and as a way to make obvious to audiences outside North Carolina, more context regarding
trends and reforms in the rest of the country would better illuminate why the history of a single state is
important to understand. The answer is that the history of the death penalty in North Carolina is the
history of the death penalty in America: one steeped in racism and reform, taking two steps forward
and one step back. But it is also unique, as are the stories of the nearly 800 recorded executions before
Furman v. Georgia (1972), some of whom Kotch tells in his book. These stories humanize the sta-
tistics, illuminate the moral and logistical diff‌iculties of violent social control, and force us to con-
front the legacy of the death penalty in maintaining White supremacy, still today.
Kathleen M. Donovan
Binder, J. J. (2017). Al Capones Beer Wars: A complete history of organized crime in Chicago during prohibition.
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. 414 pp. $25, ISBN 1633882853.
Collins, M. A., & Schwartz, B. A. (2018). Scarface and the untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the battle for
Chicago. New York: Harper Collins. 752 pp. $29.99, ISBN 9780062441959.
Reviewed by: Arthur J. Lurigio, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, College of Arts and Sciences,
Loyola University Chicago, IL, USA; Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, Loyola University Chicago,
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819892037
Fresh Perspectives on Old Stories
Beer Wars
Prohibition encouraged the establishment of a nationwide network of criminal organizations that
became embedded in the political, economic, and social environments of major U.S. cities.
268 Criminal Justice Review 48(2)

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