The psychology of “Boardwalk Empire” [Nelson Johnson/Plexus/296pgs] shows the rise and fall of an American Town in flux. Written by a longtime resident who also serves in the judicial system there, the book is a dense macabre of the people who lived there, ruled and fell. While not an easy read at times and, as aforementioned, very dense, it gives a fascinating and comprehensive view of what made the city what it is today. Atlantic City’s original concept was as a beach village since alot of Abescon Island was swamp, populated with annoying horseflies and mud. The aspects of the bringing in of people from Philadelphia for day trips eventually built the town up. What is interesting is that these same elements hurt the city today, though the amount of people coming in from NY is a little bit more of a boon. In actuality though, most of the would-be customers are heading to Foxwoods in Connecticut. Other blights to Atlantic City recently in aspects of organized crime have been alleged in regards to the Borgata which has become the most hip spot in the arena. Thus the story continues to fascinate. The author does describe that what is needed to create a more national aspect which is a bigger airport with direct flights. This has been seen in first hand experience. The local arena still is thinking itself purely as a drive-in destination despite an obvious national angle. Vegas needs a true competitor (and not 17 hours away in Macau). All this of course needs to change for AC to evolve.
In terms of the book, the most interested proponent obviously lies in the history and personalities of Atlantic City’s interaction with organized crime and its specific use of the political system to make the money and power work. This way of business was born in many ways from Prohibition which is a really interesting story to tell. The rise and fall of Nucky Johnson, specifically detailed, is fascinating and is no doubt what sold Martin Scorsese to make the series in which he directed the pilot for HBO. However, the aspect of what led to Nucky’s assuming of power (specifically the directing of votes done not by intimidation but economic and social help to the black community) is a very distinct story unto itself which dates back to the Civil War. The angle of the African American equation into the building of Atlantic City is very intrinsic and shows its influx into today. Atlantic City was one of the only cities in the North after the Civil War where African Americans could get a steady job which they could move up in. Their votes were also essential (as indicated before) to the elections which the protection brackets used to make sure the city worked to their advantage, both on the surface and behind the scenes. The story is so rife with different characters that the epic of the progression should reap extreme benefits for HBO. This is a ready made prequel to “The Sopranos” with personalities galore. It also has the possibilities to generate the limelight for Atlantic City (if they can take advantage of it).
The later years of Atlantic City with politician extraordinaire Hap Farley into the 70s were not as eventful but shows the different structure of the econony within America as opposed to the War Years which truly shows how the military machine and its availability truly altered how the middle class approached their idea of a vacation. Farley was nowhere near as flamboyant as his predecessor Nucky whose trial is rife with exceptional drama and cinematic superlatives worthy of Al Capone. However, his use of the political system was even more intricate and detailed at times in terms of its control as well as the Federal Government’s more detailed analysis on AC’s dealings.
The most recent impact with the 80s and specifically the involvement of Donald Trump shows the different angle but even that possibility is starting to wane. As recently as two years ago before “The Great Repression” (as it is now being referred to) started, the aspect of some new players into the section were being implemented. As a thought, musician/magnate Jimmy Buffett was looking to take over the Trump Marina as the Margaritaville Casino because of its ocean access. However, that deal ultimately fell through. The future is yet to come also as the impact of the global economy sinks deeper with the Tropicana Atlantic City declaring bankruptcy before it was bought up by a Carl Icahn-led investment group.
“Boardwalk Empire” gives a historical and perceptive view of what Atlantic City is built from and where its possible future lies. Unlike Las Vegas, its evolution is mired in both complex and simple truths that require its political and resort backgrounds to evolve in tandem. Its livelihood is based in a changing equation that is both fascinating and, at times, dumbfounding in its presence. The book, despite its dense material base, gives a very comprehensive view of the business and sociological structure that colors this very specific Jersey landscape and provides a distinct road map within its unique yet compounded journey. Out of 5, I give it a 3 1/2.