LAW & CRIME

The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius

Diversion. Sept. 2019. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9781635765861. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781635765854. CRIME
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George Remus (1874–1952) was one of the many larger-than-life figures to emerge from the Prohibition era. A German immigrant who worked as a pharmacist and lawyer, Remus would become the mastermind behind one of the nation’s largest illegal liquor distribution systems. Batchelor (Stan Lee) traces Remus’s dramatic career, detailing how he used his knowledge of pharmacy and the law to create a quasi-legal operation that allowed for the sale of alcohol for medicinal purposes. Remus liked to show off his vast wealth, and Batchelor suggests him as a possible model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby. The story grew even more tragic and bizarre when Remus murdered his ex-wife, who was having an affair with a federal agent. Remus served as his own attorney and was acquitted at trial on the ground of temporary insanity.
VERDICT Compared with William Cook’s King of the Bootleggers, this is a more comprehensive look at Remus’s life, though Cook’s work more closely examines its subject’s political connections and has deeper coverage of his courtroom performances. Recommended primarily for readers already interested in nonfiction accounts of organized crime or Prohibition.

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