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Thursday, August 12, 2021

Review of The Minuteman

The Minuteman: The Forgotten Legacy of Nat Arno and the Fight against Newark's Nazis
By Greg Donahue
Amazon Audible, 2020

Nat Arno grew up fighting before finding an outlet for his aggressive nature in the sport of boxing. He turned pro unfathomably young, doing so on his fifteenth birthday (though BoxRec lists a fight even a couple days earlier). When his parents found out, Arno was prohibited from boxing. After six months, he ran away from home to pursue his pugilistic career.

The Newark native didn't make enough money in the ring, so he supplemented his income by working as an enforcer for mobster Longie Zwillman's bootlegging enterprise. When the 21st Amendment was passed repealing Prohibition in 1933, Arno was left with a void.

But the repeal of Prohibition coincided with the rise of Nazism in Germany and in the United States. Arno is the jumping off point for this tale of how the Newark Minutemen, a group of Jewish boxers run by Zwillman, combated American Nazism, particularly in New Jersey.

Though this audio book clocks in at just under two hours, Greg Donahue provides dramatic and detailed accounts of some clashes between the Minutemen and the Nazis. He effectively puts these confrontations, and Arno's life, into proper historical perspective. Narrator Jonathan Davis strikes the right note throughout. His deep voice lends additional gravitas to Donahue's words. Through subtle accents, Davis makes it clear when someone is being quoted. It's a very good marriage between writer and performer.

That the book is exclusively in an audio format has its pros and cons. Davis's performance is fantastic, which is a positive feature of the format. But there are drawbacks, specifically with this book. Listening to the funny anecdotes or the dramatic encounters in the car isn't a problem, but the subject of Nazism is often, by definition, dark and upsetting. It isn't easy to listen straight through. Another issue with the format is that it hinders research. Donohue uncovers some wonderful quotes from the colorful people on whom he's reporting, but it can an annoying for a researcher to transcribe them.

The Minuteman is worth a listen for anyone interested in pre-World War II Jewish boxers, Newark history, or American Nazism in the 1930s. Donahue's effort provides the nonfiction background that nicely complements Leslie K. Barry's novel Newark Minutemen. In addition to Arno, Jewish boxing fans are treated to appearances from Puddy Hinkes, Abie Bain, Benny Levine, and Al Fisher among others.

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