Reading "The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel" (W. Norton & Co., 2002) in paperback, edited by Babel's daughter, Nathalie, got me thinking about Jewish gangsters and tough guys.
Babel was born in Odessa in 1894. He wrote of Odessa's Jewish underworld and its gangsters in sparkling prose. Fifty years before Mario Puzo gave us "The Godfather," Babel offered up Benya Krik. Benya, Babel tells us, had "gangster chic" -- a century before Tupac took the stage. Babel's Odessa was home to a universe of Jewish murderers, pimps and crooks. Before there was 50 Cent, Babel wrote of a millionaire named "Yid and a half."