At a glance:
- Author: Nicholas von Hoffman
- First Published: 1988
- Type of Work: Biography
- Genres: Nonfiction, Biography
- Subjects: 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, North America or North Americans, United States or Americans, Communism or communists, Politics, Homosexuality or homosexuals, Twentieth century, 1940's, 1930's, 1980's, Government, AIDS, Attorneys, Legislative bodies
- Locales: New York, Washington, D.C.
Nicholas von Hoffman, a liberal journalist, has written an uneven study that too much relishes retelling a legion of Roy Cohn stories to ever credibly criticize Cohn for the illegalities and corruption which von Hoffman would presumably have him represent. In von Hoffman’s account, Cohn becomes not the prince of darkness, who would appear drab and lacking in inventiveness beside him, but rather a wonderfully bad boy, full of energy and drive and possessing enough impudence for a whole law firm of hot shots. Cohn hurt people, ruined careers, stole money, fixed deals; he was the toughest and shrewdest lawyer on the scene.
Von Hoffman’s greatest problem in this book is his failure to establish a tight enough focus to override the wealth of anecdote and interview. He pauses too infrequently for observation, and the reader is swept along from one incredible escapade to another, with Cohn becoming more and more outrageous with each, until to criticize such a monstrous figure seems almost petty.
Von Hoffman does present a more balanced study of Cohn than does Cohn’s autobiography, which was completed by Sidney Zion and which has also recently appeared. Surprisingly, however, Cohn’s confessions are more restrained and less entertaining than von Hoffman’s, who seems at times to be regaling his readers with these tales for their moral edification. The result is that Cohn’s own book strikes one as being less self-serving and more honest, in a Roy Cohn sort of way, than does this more objective biography.
Roy Cohn was truly hated by his enemies and just as truly loved-- admired at least, for his singular talents--by his friends. Whether he was a smothered mama’s boy out for revenge or a slick opportunist exploiting the system remains unclear. Nevertheless, Cohn is a highly entertaining example of someone in the system who has learned its every twist and turn and orchestrates the system’s strengths as well as weaknesses for personal gain.
Sources for Further Study
ABA Journal. LXXIV, June 1, 1988, p. 112.
Booklist. LXXXIV, May 1, 1988, p. 1290.
Library Journal. CXIII, June 1, 1988, p. 108.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 10, 1988, p. 1.
The Nation. CCXLVI, May 21, 1988, p. 719.
National Review. XL, June 24, 1988, p. 44.
New York. XXI, April 18, 1988, p. 88.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, April 3, 1988, p. 1.
Newsweek. CXI, April 4, 1988, p. 68.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, April 1, 1988, p. 49.
Time. CXXXI, April 4, 1988, p. 82.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 24, 1988, p. 701.
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