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This one is a lot of fun. Rich Cohen comes on the podcast. The seven-time New York Times best-selling author and I discuss a sequence of The Fish That Ate the Whale, a bonkers biography of Sam Zemurray, a Russian Jewish immigrant who came to the U.S. and did whatever it took to build his fortune in the banana trade. The chapter and a half Rich and I focus on is all about the ambition, confidence, and, in Zemurray's case, shrewdness it took to win out over multiple governments, the world's richest man, and various heavily armed militias. (Told you it's fun.)

 

Cohen does more than tell Zemurray's story here. He relates how he is constantly seeking in his writing the hardened men—and they are almost always men—who live by the renegade's code, ignoring society's strictures because it keeps them from what they want. He and I have an almost "Jungian" back and forth (his words), trying to get to why Cohen is drawn to these characters. The episode is as introspective as it is lively.

 

I've been reading Rich's work for a while now. I loved his book The Avengers, and wrote about it in my newsletter a few weeks back. His new book, The Last Pirate of New York, tells the story of Albert Hicks, who terrorized the Five Points of the city and was either its last pirate or its first mobster. It's riveting stuff.

 

In the episode, Rich and I also talk Richard Rhodes' book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which the critic Clive James called the greatest book on the bomb, and which Rich loves because a lot of the characters in it worked for Sam Zemurray at one point. "So Sam was a great talent scout," Rich tells me.  

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