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Neil Hanson: Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became a War Hero

Heroes sometimes come from unlikely places. One day in 1917, a hero arrived in the New York National Guard by way of a cell at Sing Sing.

Monk Eastman had been the most feared gangster in lower Manhattan. Though he commanded an army of two thousand pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes, and thugs, Eastman was a hands-on type of leader, never reluctant to give his personal attention to a fistfight or a gun battle. However, after completing a lengthy prison sentence, Eastman found that he had lost his old gang – they’d splintered into several competing factions – but he had kept his old enemies.

So when the U.S. entered World War I, Monk Eastman decided to split town for somewhere safer – namely, the battlefields of France, where he could still put his mayhem-related skills to good use. Hanson chronicles Eastman’s service with "O'Ryan's Roughnecks", the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division, where he not only earned several citations for bravery but also received a hero’s welcome (and an official pardon) from the Governor of New York upon his return.

Neil Hanson has written forty novels and non-fiction books under a variety of noms de plume. Under his own name, he has published narrative histories including Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the Great War, The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada, and The Great Fire of London. He took a degree in Philosophy at Trinity College in Oxford, England, and has written extensively for the British media.