Study Guide

Boardwalk Empire Summary

By Nelson Johnson

Boardwalk Empire Summary

Being a non-fiction book, Boardwalk Empire can't exactly be broken down into a simple three-act plot. Instead, it's probably easier to think about it in terms of the different eras of Atlantic City. Which is exactly what we're going to do. Boom.

B.A.C. (Before Atlantic City)

Atlantic City is founded by Jonathan Pitney, a small town doctor with big dreams. With the help of Samuel Richards, a wealthy businessman, Pitney convinces the government to approve a railroad that ends at his newly-founded island resort. Well played, Pitney, well played.

The Early Era

Things go badly for some time, and the resort is almost shut down after only one year due to a serious mosquito infestation. After a few years, though, the resort begins to thrive thanks to a high volume of working class tourists.

Kuehnle's Era

Atlantic City's first political boss is Louis "The Commodore" Kuehnle. Kuehnle sets the tone for everything that follows by establishing a mutually beneficial relationship between local politicians and criminals.

Nucky's Era

Kuehnle isn't anything compared with his successor, though, a dude by the name of Nucky Johnson. Nucky rules the city during its absolute apex, after Prohibition leads to a massive influx of visitors looking for booze. Eventually Nucky is sent to prison and relinquishes his power.

Hap's Era

The next boss is Hap Farley. Hap actually becomes an effective state senator, earning the title of senate majority leader as well as Boss of Atlantic City. After an illustrious career, Hap is abruptly booted from office as the result of redistricting. See ya…

The Lost Years

The 1950s and 60s are bad times for Atlantic City. Many local businesses shut down and the city collapses into an urban wasteland. Those who remain pin their hopes on one crazy dream—legalized gambling.

The Casino Era

As it happens, this dream comes true. After the legalization of gambling in 1976, the city experiences another massive boom period, with super-wealthy businesspeople like Donald Trump investing boatloads of cash in fancy new casinos. Things are finally looking up for Atlantic City.

From Jonathan Pitney to Donald Trump, Atlantic City has gone on one wild ride.