I met Ron Arons in New York at the 2006 IAJGS conference. I’ve been to a few of his presentations and they are always thoroughly entertaining as well as educational. When he spoke about his upcoming book (this book) I was especially impressed and intrigued.
At the 2005 conference, I was in the room next door to where he was giving a lecture about Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, two of the characters who appear in this book, and that crowd was quite disruptive with bursts of laughter.
I purchased “The Jews of Sing Sing: Gotham Gangsters and Gonuvim” from Ron at the 2008 IAJGS conference in Chicago. He signed it, “Stay away from this place!”, more evidence of his sense of humor.
The book started as a memoir to his great-grandfather, Isaac Spier, but when no one wanted to publish another personal memoir, his research took him much further into the histories of many Jewish criminals who spent time in Sing Sing Prison in New York.
Ron goes into great detail about their histories, sometimes a bit too much. I’m the kind of person who reads every word and every number in a book, so it got a bit tedious to read all the dates, addresses, census information, and other details. There are parts of the book where Ron fills in details about who was in each household in each census, their address, ages, professions, and such. While important to the research and to genealogy in general, it made it a little harder for me to read.
I’m also a bit of a casual reader, enjoying stories where I don’t have to concentrate much, and some chapters he introduced a plethora of characters. The stories were good, but I couldn’t keep all the characters straight.
My favorite chapters were the ones about Ron’s own family. Providing those same kinds of details, he also seemed to delve more into the narrative of the people, as well as giving more details about his quest for the information, mentioning each time he found a new clue or hit a brick wall. It seemed more casual and more personal, which better suited my reading style preference. Plus, I enjoy the hunt in genealogy, so reading about Ron’s research process was enthralling.
I found the last two chapters to be most enjoyable — the only time I read more than one chapter at a time. He wrote three chapters about Isaac Spier, including the penultimate one. The final chapter was about Ron’s visit to Sing Sing.
Lots of families have tales about the black sheep relative, the criminal, the person in the mafia — including mine — but Ron researched and learned the truth about his ancestors as well as many others. Once I got through the paragraphs of census facts, I enjoyed reading the stories. I look forward to checking out his second book, “Wanted: U.S. Criminal Records”, so I can research my own family mafia story.
Ron’s books can be purchased on his web site at http://ronarons.com/.
Disclaimer: Apparently there was some stuff going on before I started blogging whereas people were paid to write good reviews about products and such and didn’t tell their readers that is was more of a paid advertisement than a personal opinion. Well, I wasn’t paid for this. If I was, I probably would have skipped over the less-than-favorable comments, don’t you think?