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.
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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."
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