Mitch LaNue, a steadfast, hard-fisted, head-strong young man, is self-conscious of his lack of education. He has the ambition to rise above poverty and be respected, but his compassion for the underdog and his great devotion to country and honor could destroy him.
One of five children, Mitch grows up in Brooklyn. When the effects of the Great Depression and the loss of a valuable patent devastate his father, Mitch's extremely juvenile mother is at liberty to raise the children in her own infantile way. Mitch's older brother Paul, keen minded and without scruples, is always scheming with ingenious swindles and knows he can con anyone. He respects no one and believes strongly in self-preservation-at anyone's expense. Victor, the youngest LaNue brother, is a cynic from a life of many disappointments. He doesn't know which brother to look up to: the bold, violent fighter or the resourceful con artist. In forming their manhood, Mitch and his brothers' personalities differ in morality, wants, and needs-but all three are determined to survive by methods inherited from their youth.
From the 1929 stock market crash, through World War II, and into the Korean War, If I Die, I'll Only Be Dead recounts Mitch's life as he lives by his own unique philosophy.