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  • NYS Writers Institute

A conversation with writer Russell Shorto on his new book, Smalltime

Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl interviews Russell Shorto, the best-selling author of Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan & The Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, Amsterdam, and Revolution Song, and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.


For his seventh book, the main topic of this conversation, Shorto has taken on a completely different challenge. In Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob, Shorto uses his extraordinary skills as a historian and a prose stylist to produce an absorbing personal story about his namesake, his grandfather, Russell Shorto, the minor-league mobster of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As Shorto writes, researching this book “took me into a netherworld of bookies and payoffs, of America in its mid-century brawn, and into the heart and soul of my family.”


Published in February, Smalltime has won prominent reviews and high praise in The New York Times Book Review, which said Shorto “steers us along with his usual humor and eye for quirky detail.” And The Wall Street Journal said: “Mr. Shorto is a terrific storyteller, especially in his brevity. His sentences are short, crisp and unshowy; few of his words, are wasted, a delight these days.”



“Russell Shorto’s Smalltime draws a convincing portrait of a time when Italian Americans weren’t permitted to live in certain neighborhoods or rise too high in the political firmament. This remembrance of his grandfather’s and great-uncle’s lives — of slots and pinball machines, ​‘tip seals,’ ​‘skeeched dice,’ and places like the Melodee Lounge and City Cigar — mixes great history and lovely, lingering memories: ​‘Long conversations about spaghetti sauce and aunts who kissed you on the lips: those were the ways we were Italian.’” — Francis Ford Coppola


“Shorto presents a fascinating institutional history of small-town organized crime and a moving family saga with equal amounts of detail and heart. Mob history lovers will especially enjoy this colorful account.”

Publishers Weekly


Please support your local, independent bookseller. You may purchase Smalltime at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza: https://www.bhny.com/book/9780393245585

More Russell Shorto

From the Archives: Watch an excerpt from Russell Shorto's 2017 visit to the Writers Institute

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