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American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power (John MacRae Books) Hardcover – January 6, 2004


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Product Details

  • Series: John MacRae Books
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072105
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,493,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reppetto's history of the American Mafia, from its humble turn-of-the-century beginnings in small Italian neighborhoods to the 1950-1951 Senate's Kefauver hearings on organized crime that made the mob front-page news, seeks to set the record straight about one of America's most mysterious organizations. Though Reppetto, a former cop, acknowledges that the American Mafia was an outgrowth of the Sicilian and Neapolitan criminal guilds, he finds only a loose connection between the American Mafia and its old country counterparts. Citing the bad business practices of killers like Al Capone, Reppetto makes it clear that it was the mob's political ties, especially to the Tammany groups in Manhattan and the mayor's office in Chicago, and not murder and mayhem, that made rich men of many Italians (as well as Poles, Irishmen and Jews) who came to America with nothing. Without condoning their tactics, Reppetto makes a strong case that the men who laid the foundation for a national "syndicate" were empire builders along the lines of the Astors and Vanderbilts, and that the Mafia's decline since the 1950s is as much a reflection of the lack of new, strong mob leadership as it is a result of less political protection and a federal crackdown that stemmed from the mob's newfound notoriety. Though this book doesn't answer every question about the Mafia in America, it does present a thought-provoking depiction of the mob devoid of the sensationalism prevalent in many other portrayals.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In the eighteen-eighties, the legendary New York police detective Thomas Byrnes outlined a simple solution to the mafia problem: "Let them kill each other." For Reppetto, such a view reflects dangerous illusions about the mob's foreignness and insularity. Immigrants didn't import organized crime, he writes; "they found it here when they arrived." If Italians bested other ethnic groups, it was because they were, in this respect, the better assimilationists. His clear-eyed study portrays a Mafia that managed to be both national in scope and—despite investigators' hunt for an elusive "Mr. Big"—surprisingly decentralized. Reppetto covers the usual suspects, like Luciano and Capone, but is particularly fascinated by the intersection of mob life with the establishment. He believes that the Mob boss Frank Costello uttered a basic truth about his business when, in 1951, he told the Kefauver committee, "I love this country."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Customer Reviews

This book is a very good introduction to the history of the Mafia in America.
The Historian
The book concentrates mainly on the New York and Chicago areas, but does include Las Vegas and other areas as well.
Bill Emblom
He enrolled as a Five Points member and later took the well dressed Arnold Rothstein as his mentor.
HAROLD J. REYNOLDS

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I feel the same way about "American Mafia : A History of Its Rise to Power" as I did about Reppetto's other book "NYPD" (co-authored by James Lardner): while I found it interesting and well-written, I felt that it left too many gaps and that some of the areas covered were not covered enough. And like NYPD, the book seemed more like a collection of mob anecdotes than an investigation into the "History of Its Rise to Power". Reppetto is to be admired for trying to tackle such a long history, and to be fair, much of it is told in an engaging style. But it seems like too broad a subject, for any writer.
Perhaps if he had just focused on the early mob history, or the history of its real organizing in the 30s and 40s, or the history of its bold, brash decades of the 50s and 60s, he would have forced himself to be more focused and selective. Instead, the book feels watered down. On a positive note, as the other reviewers have mentioned, there is no glamorizing these criminals. They are often portrayed as the vicious and psychopathic parasites they were. The key role that Prohibition played is the strong point of this book, and Reppetto does a fantastic job on discussing that.
One last note, this book, like others, fails to emphasize one thing: the Italians did not invent organized crime. The New York neighborhood known as the Five Points was rife with gangs of Irish immigrants, and they, like the mob, worked hand-in-hand with the politicians and judges that were owned by the Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall. Later, a generation of Jewish immigrants, with names like Zelig, Buchalter, and Rothstein would dominate the crime scene. Reppetto does an okay job of covering these issues, something other mob "historians" neglect.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on February 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Thomas Reppetto has provided us with an interesting history on the rise of the mafia in America, and the reasons for its demise from its once lofty perch. The man behind its beginnings was Johnny Torrio who transferred his operations from New York to Chicago in the early 1920's. The book concentrates mainly on the New York and Chicago areas, but does include Las Vegas and other areas as well. Certain thugs were removed from the scene due to various reasons such as Jim Colosimo who didn't adjust to the times (prohibition), Dion O'Bannion due to cheating on a business deal, Al Capone and Owney Madden due to bad publicity, Dutch Schultz due to reckless behavior, and others due to various mistakes such as maintaining a high profile. J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. ignored any investigation of the mafia. Instead he concentrated on two bit hoodlums such as "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, and John Dillinger who robbed banks during the 1930's. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of the mafia while the second half of the century saw its fall. The Kefauver Committee began investigating organized crime in 1950 and the advent of television in urban areas brought interviews with mobsters such as Frank Costello to the forefront of the public. Although mobsters can find new fields in which to operate, today's organized crime is a shadow of what it once was. This book brings the names of the infamous back to life from the time of the beginnings of the 1920's through the removal of the New York mobsters in the 1980's. Even if you are familiar with the names of Luciano, Rothstein, Genovese, Giancana, and others you will find this a very interesting book to read. I would highly recommend it to you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Derrick Peterman on April 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book for the most part. Part of the strength of the book is also its weakness. Thomas Reppetto is a former detective, and brings in a law enforcement perspective to the history that a jounalist or historian probably couldn't achieve. The result is more insiders view of the various investigations into mob activity, and also the surprisingly strong relationship the American mafia had with local police departments and politicians. The downside is that the writing loses its focus for me at times, and I found it hard to keep track of the rather large cast of characters in the book from the way Reppetto tells his various storys.

Reppetto is a pretty engaging story teller, and the history is more a series of tales woven together over several decades. That may not qualify this book as a definitive history, but it is an enjoyable read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Historian on January 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is a very good introduction to the history of the Mafia in America. The bibliography and notes are extensive and impressive and the reader can be assured that the author knows his subject extremely well. A large chunk of the book is devoted to New York City but there is pages devoted to New Orleans, the Mafia in Hollywood, Chicago, and Detroit etc. A lot of material is covered in this book and some areas are only briefly explored but there are plenty of other books out there for the readers to delve further into areas that interest them.

The early years of the Italian Gangs in New York around 1899-1920 is covered well if it is brief, the ruthless, violent activities of Morello and Lupo the wolf and their sinister stable are explored and how the Police tried to crack down on these gangs. Lupo ends up spending plenty of years in jail (poor Lupo!).

The early years of the rise to power of the Mob in Chicago and New York is explained well, we are introduced to criminals like Johnny Torrio, who brilliantly exploited prohibition and set up the Mob in Chicago. The genesis of the New York Mob is also explained although the book tends to jump around at times as it tries to link people and events. Readers need to be patient as the author has sound logic for these jumps and it makes sense in the finish.

The book also deals with the mob fighters and racket breakers such as the competent and honest Chicago detective William Shoemaker, of course Eliot Ness and a special mention to the fearless and very able Elmer Irey the Dept of Treasury Intelligence Chief.

The mobs golden years from the 1920's to the 1970's are unrolled before the reader as the Mob seems to defy any effort to weaken it or shut it down.
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More About the Author

BIOGRAPHY

Thomas A. Reppetto, a former Commander of Detectives in the Chicago Police Department, received his doctorate from Harvard and was a professor, dean and vice-president at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

For over a quarter-century he headed the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. Previous heads of New York crime commissions had come to grief. One, a prominent minister, was immortalized in song for visiting houses of prostitution. Another, was an assistant district attorney whose solution of a mob murder prompted Hollywood to make a movie about him. At the Commission, he was jailed for refusing to name a confidential source. During his own tenure as Commission head Reppetto managed to avoid both houses of prostitution and a jail cell but there were no songs or movies written about him.

Reppetto's various book's look behind the scenes at policing, the American Mafia, and counter terrorist agencies.

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