Originally Published in PublishersWeekly
Conway (American Literacy ) relates the engrossing tale of “the greatest bank robbery in American history.” The central figure is architect George Leslie, who was 27 when he arrived in Manhattan in 1869 seeking success and adventure. With impeccable manners and good looks, Leslie led a double life, inserting himself into the Gilded Age city's most elite circles, while assembling a gang of “the cleverest criminals in New York City's underworld” to carry out a series of bank robberies. His biggest was the October 27, 1878, theft from the Manhattan Savings Institution of some $3 million in cash and securities (the equivalent of $50 million today). Conway skillfully paints a backdrop of fierce and flamboyant personalities who paraded across the Gilded Age, from Brooklyn Bridge engineer John Roebling to Marm Mandelbaum, “queen of the criminals.” The author overstates his claim to be following in John Dos Passos's footsteps in quoting real newspaper headlines and stories of the period as well as song lyrics, but he capably recounts his story against a background of glitter and greed.