Cohen, Rich 1968-
COHEN, Rich 1968-
PERSONAL: Born July 30, 1968, in Libertyville, IL; son of Herb (a negotiator and strategist) and Ellen (an office manager; maiden name, Eisenstadt) Cohen. Education: Tulane University, B.A. Politics: "Depends on mood." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Playing and watching hockey, receiving and dispensing great stories.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Rolling Stone, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10001-0000.
CAREER: Rolling Stone magazine, contributing editor.
Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
The Avengers: A Jewish War Story, Knopf, (New York, NY), 2000.
Lake Effect, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: As Rich Cohen grew up in Illinois, he was enthralled by his father's stories of Jewish gangsters in Brooklyn, New York, where the elder Cohen had been raised. Cohen revisits Brooklyn in his book Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams, which takes readers back to the days when the organized crime in that area was run by Jewish gangsters such as "Big Greenie" Greenberg, "Tick-Tock" Tannenbaum, and "Pretty" Levine. These men loomed large in the criminal underground of New York during the first half of the twentieth century, and the generation that followed them was also powerfully influential, even when they moved away from criminal pursuits. Using police records and other archival documents, Cohen depicts the Jewish gangster world, supplementing his research with interviews and memories from his father's contemporaries. Cohen identifies the archetypal "tough Jew" to Arnold Rothstein, a well-heeled young man from Manhattan's Upper East Side who, despite his comfortable upbringing, sought out the ghetto life. Rothstein tutored Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a duo that eventually founded Murder, Inc., a repository for witty-but-violent Jews. According to Vincent Patrick of the New York Times, Cohen tells "marvelous" stories in Tough Jews, and "the writing [is] good enough to cause one, at times, to reread a page in order to savor the description." A Publishers Weekly critic declared that "Cohen's immersion in the Jewish mob evokes an era well worth remembering." Less enthusiastic was Leon Wieseltier, contributor to the New Republic, who found Cohen's admiration for his violent subjects to be inappropriate. "Tough Jews is just an exercise in an ugly, harmless nostalgia," stated Wieseltier.
Cohen chronicles the stories of some more conventionally heroic Jews in his next book, The Avengers: A Jewish War Story, which relates the Jewish resistance to the Nazis in Europe. While most people think of the millions of Jews who were killed in World War II as having gone passively to their deaths, Cohen shows that there were many Jews who were willing to fight to the bitter end for their freedom and that of their fellow Jews. Resistance was controversial, for the Nazis would routinely punish any sort of sabotage by randomly executing people in the Jewish ghettoes. Still, there were those who felt compelled to fight back no matter what the risk. Focusing on Vilna, a city in Lithuania, Cohen describes the leaders of the resistance, their brave exploits, and the paths their lives took after the war ended. Although the story of the Vilna resistance has been told in other books, "Cohen expends much imagination and artistry on his emotive account of this particular band of extremely tough Jews," commented Andrew Pulver in Guardian. In a review appearing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Anne Stephenson found that the story had even greater significance than can be attributed to the specific events described. She commented: "What's at stake in this book, one realizes, is not merely an era in European or world history, but profound, lingering questions about how civilization manages to hold itself together." And Ed Halloran stated in the Rocky Mountain News, "This is a story that is, by turns, horrible, funny and beautiful."
In 2002, Cohen produced a memoir of his own life, Lake Effect, which was hailed by critics as a skillfully told coming-of-age story set in the 1980s. Much of the writing focuses on Cohen's best friend, Jamie Drew. "Cohen's prose is elegiac, nostalgic and Gatsbyesque," mused a Publishers Weekly writer, "and conveys not only the fleetingness of teen years but a vivid portrait of Midwestern life." Lake Effect is "truly a golden book about a golden time," advised Geeta Sharma-Jensen in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and while the events related in the book are not remarkable, Cohen "has taken the everyday stuff of life and made it joyously readable. The mundane becomes richly evocative in his hands. The usual becomes unusual, the boring becomes interesting, the sweet becomes bittersweet, and 'Lake Effect' becomes that proverbial book you can't put down."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams, p. 1184; August, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Avengers: A Jewish War Story, p. 2068.
Chicago, April 1, 1998, Christine Moesch, review of Tough Jews, p. 16.
Commentary, August, 1998, Adam J. Levitin, review of Tough Jews, pp. 68-70.
Grand Rapids Press, September 29, 2002, review of Lake Effect, p. J5.
Guardian, February 24, 2001, review of The Avengers, p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Lake Effect, p. 302.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of Lake Effect, p. 38.
Library Journal, April 1, 1998, Christine Moesch, review of Tough Jews, p. 108; August, 2000, Marty Soven, review of The Avengers, p. 124.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 1, 2000, Anne Stephenson, review of The Avengers, p. 9; May 5, 2002, Geeta Sharma-Jensen, review of Lake Effect, p. 6.
New Republic, May 25, 1998, Leon Wieseltier, review of Tough Jews, p. 43.
New Statesman, August 7, 1998, Roz Kaveney, review of Tough Jews, p. 45.
Newsweek, April 20, 1998, Jack Kroll, review of Tough Jews, p. 67.
New York Times, April 12, 1998; April 16, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Tough Jews, p. B9; May 2, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of Lake Effect, p. B9.
New York Times Book Review, April 12, 1998, Vincent Patrick, review of Tough Jews, p. 15; May 5, 2002, Pagan Kennedy, review of Lake Effect, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 2, 1998, review of Tough Jews, p. 54; July 17, 2000, review of The Avengers, p. 183; March 18, 2002, review of Lake Effect, p. 87.
Record (Bergen Country, NJ), December 3, 2000, Alyssa Haywoode, review of The Avengers, p. Y3.
Rocky Mountain News, October 1, 2000, Ed Halloran, review of The Avengers, p. 3E.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), October 1, 2000, Neal Gendler, review of The Avengers, p. 19F.
Beatrice, http://www.beatrice.com/ (May 25, 2003), Ron Hogan, interview with Rich Cohen.
Bookbrowse, http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (August 31, 2004), interview with Rich Cohen.