Walter Shapiro, lecturer in political science
(Blue Rider Press)
All his life, Walter Shapiro assumed that the outlandish stories about his great-uncle Freeman were exaggerated family lore. Only when he started researching Freeman Bernstein’s life did he realize that his family was actually holding back — the man had enough stories, vocations, and IOUs to fill a dozen lifetimes. Freeman was many people: a vaudeville manager, boxing promoter, stock swindler, card shark, and self-proclaimed “Jade King of China.”
From a ragtag childhood in Troy, New York, Shapiro follows his great-uncle’s ever-crooked trajectory through show business, from his early schemes on the burlesque circuit to marrying his star performer, and producing silent films — released only in Philadelphia. All of Freeman’s schemes were simply a prelude to Feb. 18, 1937, the day he was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department for grand larceny — for cheating Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. Freeman had promised to ship 35 tons of embargoed Canadian nickel to Germany; when the cargo arrived, the Germans found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin.