The Book Behind HBO's Blockbuster Series 'Boardwalk Empire'

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August 25th, 2010

via press release:

The book behind HBO’s blockbuster series

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

By Nelson Johnson

ATLANTIC CITY: A MECCA OF CRIME AND CORRUPTION
--Atlantic City historian’s depiction of the legendary resort town inspired the HBO series from Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese--

During the Roaring Twenties, with Prohibition under strict enforcement and the American worker dutifully laboring for the Industrial Revolution, people sought a retreat—a place where they could cut loose. And, from piles of sand, the seaside resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey, was born.
Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, by historian and author Nelson Johnson, documents the true story of the resort that offered “a naughty good time at an affordable price.” Johnson’s book inspired the HBO series by the same name, whose pilot—directed by Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese—premieres September 19 at 9 PM. Written by Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Terence Winter (The Sopranos), the series stars Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson—a character inspired by the real-life Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.

“Liquor flowed freely, almost as though Prohibition didn’t exist, prostitution was celebrated, and gambling was a way of life,” says Johnson.  “Resort owners made their money by giving people what they wanted—whether it was legal or not—and visitors were their only source of income.”

In Boardwalk Empire, Johnson describes the political and social forces that set Atlantic City on its unique course. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the town’s political bosses cheated their candidates into office and systematically ignored any illegal activities that would keep resort visitors coming back for more. Through multiple elections, the well-oiled Republican political machine, funded by payoffs from gambling rooms, bars, and brothels, was firmly entrenched and the big players were untouchable.

Nucky Johnson—the host of the first national convention of organized crime figures—was the power broker who pushed Atlantic City into history. He took the resort town to the next level by securing a statewide and, later, national presence. As a result of Nucky’s reign, Atlantic City came to be known as the “international entertainment mecca where anything goes.”

Irresistibly told, with characters and pacing worthy of a well-crafted novel, Boardwalk Empire is the true story of a colorful city and its unique political culture. In the book, Johnson offers a startling look at the key factors in Atlantic City’s improbable rise and fall, including:

  • Nucky Johnson—the powerful Republican boss who dominated AC politics for more than 40 years and rubbed elbows with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.
  • How bending the law and creating a unique political structure were critical to the town’s success.
  • Why Atlantic City was and remains an “experiment” in social planning. It was the first city founded for the singular purpose of providing leisure time activities for vacationers.
  • Why critics and do-gooders like Woodrow Wilson could complain, probe, and indict corrupt leaders but never clean up AC.

Author and historian Nelson Johnson is a life-long resident of Hammonton, NJ, whose family’s presence in Atlantic County predates the founding of Atlantic City. Johnson practiced law for 30 years and was active in both Atlantic County and City politics through most of that time. He was attorney for the Atlantic City Planning Board at the time of the approvals for many of the casinos, and it was during those years that he became interested in making sense of Atlantic City. The interviews and research he conducted for Boardwalk Empire spanned nearly two decades.

Boardwalk Empire (September 2010) is a Medford Press Book from Plexus Publishing, Inc., available for purchase at www.plexuspublishing.com and through leading retail and online booksellers nationwide via Independent Publishers Group (IPG). For more information, visit www.boardwalkempire.com.

 
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