My father was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1914, the same year that Jack Dempsey began fighting and a few months before the outbreak of World War I. He grew up in the Bronx, not far from the neighborhood speakeasy. By the age of twelve he had begun working part-time, delivering buttons in the Garment Center and dry cleaning on the West Side. He also worked in a plant wrapping butter on an assembly line&#151just a few blocks away from the musty newsroom where his future lay. In 1928, on his bicycle, he delivered prescriptions to the elderly for a pharmacy. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he was a freshman in high school. It was a time he would never forget.

Everything changed in 1931 when he played hooky to go see The Front Page, a movie about Chicago newspapermen based on the 1928 Broadway play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. There, he found his calling. Life had boiled down to becoming "Hildy Johnson," the crack reporter from the movie. At seventeen, my father dropped out of Morris High School in the middle of the eleventh grade and went down to Cyrus H.K. Curtis's New York Evening Post to ask for a job. But, in the middle of the Great Depression, there were no jobs, only breadlines. My father, however, was persistent, returning the next day and the days after that, until on the sixth day they hired him as a copy boy for a salary of $12 for a six-day week. In 1934, the paper became the New York Post, where he would spend the next forty-six years covering all the beats as a reporter&#151from the New York courts to the Washington bureau to war correspondent&#151and every desk job as an editor. Between I949 and 1976, as executive editor, he ran the Post for publisher Dorothy Schiff and, in his spare time, wrote six of his nine books.

In 1955, Crown Publishers, who had published his first book, Pictorial History of the Wild West (with James D. Horan) in 1954, asked him if he had any interest in writing a book on the Roaring Twenties. Less than seven months later, my father had written The Lawless Decade: Bullets, Broads and Bathtub Gin in 21 days. When he sent a draft to his mentor in the newspaper trade, Walter B. Lister&#151a man who refused to give him a night off the day he got married&#151he received a note back that said, "I'll buy your story that you wrote in three weeks, if you insist, but you must have been researching it for 20 years!" It was Lister who, in 1932, had taken the young Paul Sann under his wing and put him through the rigorous training that gave him the experience he needed. As a reporter on the police beat in 1934 he "developed a fine hunger for the frequently elusive truth about the lawless way." He would spend most of his life getting out the edition and writing front-page headline that one colleague characterized as "so exciting you had to wait for the story to catch up"&#151"THEY EVEN FIXED THE KID" (1959 quiz show scandal), "NOW RFK" (I968 Kennedy assassination), "NIXON BUGGED HIMSELF" (1973 Watergate). But he was always happiest as a reporter, honing the craft that would serve him well in writing seven nonfiction books, including The Lawless Decade, his first solo effort.

When he began his career as a newspaperman, he wrote that he was, "paid to observe the great, living human drama of his own time, and most of the restless heroes were very much around"&#151Bobby Jones (who won the U.S. Open at 21 in 1923), "Red" Grange (who scored 4 TDs in 12 minutes in 1924), F. Scott Fitzgerald (author of This Side of Paradise, 1920, The Beautiful and the Damned, 1921, and The Great Gatsby, 1925), Ernest Hemingway (author of The Sun Also Rises, 1925, and A Farewell to Arms, 1929), Babe Ruth (who hit those 60 homers in 1927 that are still talked about today), and the unrestrained gangsters, Al Capone and "Dutch" Schultz (who were acquiring muscle and rising to power). "The hoodlum always interested me," Sann used to say, "if you leave out the guns, I like a guy who works at his profession."

My father believed that if you worked hard, you could fit two days into one. That's how he lived. At forty-one, with a wife and two teenage children, he would research The Lawless Decade over the course of six months: after work, in the evenings, and weekends, and write the captions for the more than 600 pictures. That same year, 1955, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for his daring and explosive interview in Cairo with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. He would write the guts of The Lawless Decade—100,000 words&#151on his three-week summer vacation in 1956, turning out 5,000 to 6,000 words a day; obsessed as always with word counts.

Though The Lawless Decade went out of print in the early 1990s, between then and its publication in 1957 more than 400,000 hardcover and paperback editions were sold. In 1957, it was on a number of bestseller lists and reviewed widely across the country&#151many of these reviews featuring pictures from the wonderful collection by George Hornby. Although the Twenties officially ended 80 years ago, its echoes still persist. It was then that the machine-gun style of Walter Winchell&#151the father of modern gossip and celebrity culture&#151electrified audiences through a new invention called "radio," and "Get-Rich-Quick merchant" Charles Ponzi was making a killing and hoping "the Day of Judgment would never come." Florida was hit with a real estate bubble when long-distance buyers who invested their life savings in the American Paradise discovered they'd bought swamps and palmetto groves, while Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan fought the battle of Fundamentalism vs. Evolution in the (Scopes) Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, the first state in the nation with a new law making it a crime to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible." My lather wrote, "Everything else was going under the microscope for open examination in the Twenties, why not the Bible?" Then there was Jimmy Walker, "the night mayor" of New York, who was married, drawn to the high life, and a frequent visitor to the Central Park Casino for a nightcap&#151with his best girlfriend in tow. During Prohibition, liquor flowed into the U.S. by land and sea across every border almost uninterrupted. Supply always exceeded demand; "Was there any way to seal off our borders?" asked Paul Sann. Of course, you could always get a drink on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The book actually spans a total of 15 years, not 10&#151from the World War I Armistice (1918) through Prohibition, to its Repeal (1933) and the New Deal. My father used the title, The Lawless Decade, "because Prohibition set in force a wave of lawlessness. The nation went on a binge that had an impact on every aspect of our culture. It was a free and easy time. Consider the flapper: The girls discarded the morals of the pre-war days, the morals of their mothers. They went to short skirts and bobbed hair and lipstick and cigarettes and silk under things&#151and bathtub gin and necking in open cars.... The stock market crash came about because one of the quaintest laws of our forefathers&#151"they called it 'thrift'&#151had been tossed aside in a wild gambling splurge. Everybody went into the market with his last dime and the nation came out of it with a song called, 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?' It was a perfect epitaph for the era. The songwriters rose to the occasion, as usual, and closed the Lawless Decade for us.... Digging into that time later for a book, you label it The Lawless Decade, but you know by then that they're all lawless&#151past, present, and very likely unto eternity."

This book begins when my father was only five years old and ends when he was a teenager. In-between, it was a tumultuous ten years fueled by the euphoria and upheaval following the "war to end all wars." For it was in the Twenties and Thirties that Paul Sann's young imagination was captured by great athletes, Hollywood stars, Broadway music, politicians, crime, gambling, and gangsters. It is their stories, their feats and falls, and the story of the American culture that are passionately detailed in The Lawless Decade. Dover's initiative and enthusiasm to put this book back into print is testament to Paul Sann's love of history and to the lively and colorful way he wrote about it. He used to say to reporters, "lf you've got the story, tell it; if you don't have it, write it." In this book, he does both.

Howard V. Sann
Bridgeport, Connecticut
March, 2010