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Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires Hardcover – August 25, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (August 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312300948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312300944
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Mafia has long held a spot in the American imagination. Despite their earned reputation for brutality, the Mafia has been glorified in countless movies, books, and television shows. Not so in this book. Selwyn Raab makes no attempt to perpetuate myths about the Mafia; instead, he exposes them as a serious threat to honest citizens: "The collective goal of the five families of New York was the pillaging of the nation's richest city and region," he writes. These five families--Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese--were responsible for corrupting labor unions in order to control waterfront commerce, garbage collection, the garment industry, and construction in New York. They also ran illegal gambling operations, engaged in stock schemes, and initiated the widespread introduction of heroin (among other drugs) into cities of the East and Midwest in the 1950s, leading to "accelerated crime rates, law-enforcement corruption, and the erosion of inner-city neighborhoods in New York and throughout the United States." Five Families offers a comprehensive look at the inner workings of the various clans along with vivid profiles of the gangsters who led--and continue to maintain--this criminal empire.

Beginning with a brief history of the Sicilian origins of the Mafia, Raab exhaustively explains how the Mob took over New York before spreading to cities across America, particularly Las Vegas, their most successful outside venture. He also shows how the New York Mafia lost a great deal of power in the 1980s and '90s due to many significant busts and effective plea-bargaining. However, since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the F.B.I. has been focused mainly on external threats, leaving the Mafia room to regain some lost turf by moving into new avenues of crime. An investigative reporter for 40 years, Raab interviewed dozens of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, Mafia members, informants, and "Mob lawyers," providing anecdotes and inside information that tell the true story of the Mafia and their influence over the past 80 years. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Former New York Times crime reporter Raab sets a new gold standard for organized crime nonfiction with his outstanding history of the Mafia in New York City. Combining the diligent research and analysis of a historian with the savvy of a beat journalist who has extensive inside sources, the author succeeds at an ambitious task by rendering the byzantine history of New York's five families—Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese—easily comprehensible to any lay reader. Of necessity, Raab also illuminates the Mafia's origin in 19th-century Sicily and its transition to this country. Throughout his survey of the mob's evolution—from simple protection rackets to pump-and-dump stock schemes—Raab renders the mobsters (including men less well known than John Gotti, but no less significant) as three-dimensional figures, without glossing over their vicious crimes and their impact on honest citizens. Law enforcement's varying responses as well as society's view of gangsters enrich the narrative, which merits comparison with the classic true-crime writing of Kurt Eichenwald. While Raab surprisingly gives short shrift to the 1980s pizza connection case, which revealed the growing influence of the Sicilian Mafia on America's heroin trade, he otherwise demonstrates mastery of his subject. This masterpiece stands an excellent chance of becoming a bestseller with crossover appeal beyond devoted watchers of The Sopranos. 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Great book for anyone interested in the history of the mafia.
Kathleen M. Burden
The book is studded with details of the actual events and the treatment of the stories are very readable.
Sekhar Banerjee
I really enjoyed this history of the five New York Mafia families.
Jesse M. Roland

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

122 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Michael D. Hiscox on June 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The prior reviews that seem peeved that this book offers little in the way of revelations or breakthrough analysis are accurate. If you are one of the country's great experts, OK, you've heard it before; don't buy the book.

For everyone else, this is an excellent review of the New York Mafia, what they did, who did it, and the enforcement brought against them. I own over a hundred organized crime books, and this is the one I would recommend to someone looking for the best possible overview of the Five Families. It is comprehensive, factual and well-written.
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75 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Sage on April 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book on the history of the American Mafia with some new insights on its origins and how it came to the US, also how it functioned and bled New York for 70+ years. Raab has a done a masterful job of combing through the myriad newspaper, court dcuments and sources out there and assembled a chronological narrative of each of New York's Mafia Families. It is a rivetting read, entertaining and informative. It gives new insights into the semi-legit rackets and old history like Apalachin, JFK's assassination, Luciano's war-time aid to the US, and Jimmy Hoffa. Of particulr value is how the new focus on terrorism post 9/11 may give the Mafia a chance to regroup.

However, these strengths are also its weaknesses. It focuses exclusively on New York City. It says how New York made satellites of Mafia Families in other cities but never explains how things worked in other cities or how the New York Families subjugated other mafia groups around the country. It also would have been intersting to learn how New York mafia groups related to and cooperated with families in other cities, especially Chicago. It never explains how the New York Families could run crews in other cities with active Mafia Families, like Newark and California.

Raab also relies heavily on FBI and Court transcripts, and sometimes his explaining the investigations and pursuit of the gangsters is too long and pulls the book off track. We want to learn about the Mafia and how it functions, not read a police investigative-procedural drama.

The most glaring mis-step is Raab's over-simplification and neglect of other criminal organizations, especially Meyer Lansky, Moe Dalitz and other Jewish gagnsters.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on March 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Beginning with the Sicilian origins of the Mafia, Selwyn Raab explains how it spread from its New York origins to cities across America.

Raab, a newspaper and television reporter with more than 40 years experience covering organized crime paints a realistic portrait of the Mafia. Avoiding glamorization, the author, who spent more than 25 years as a reporter with The New York Times, exposes the Mafia as a serious threat to honest citizens.

"The collective goal of the five families of New York was the pillaging of the nation's richest city and region," he writes.

The five families--Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese--were responsible for corrupting labor unions to control waterfront commerce, garbage collection, the garment industry, and construction in New York. Later, they broadened their vistas to include the country, particularly Las Vegas, its most successful outside venture.

Since September 11, 2001, the author says, the F.B.I. has been focused mainly on external threats, the author notes. This gives it room to regain some lost turf by moving into new avenues of crime.

Exhaustive in its research and well-written, Five Families chronicles the tale of the rise and fall of New York's premier dons: Lucky Luciano, Paul Castellano and John Gotti. To carry his tale, Raab interviewed prosecutors, law enforcement officers, Mafia members, informants, and "Mob lawyers." The result: anecdotes and inside information that reveal the true story of the Mafia and its influence.

A masterpiece, this book will be considered a model of what great journalism should and can be.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Scott Hedegard on February 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I'd give "Five Families" six or seven stars, were it possible. Having read several Mob-related books, some great, some trashy, I can say with some authority that Selwyn Raab's book is the best historical volume ever on the Mafia, and brings us up to the present.

From its start during Prohibition, the founding of "The Commission" by Lucky Luciano and later events such as the whacking of Paul Castellano and the rise and fall of John Gotti, and the travails of sinister Mob figures like Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso, probably the most vicious mobster ever, and Vincent "Chin" Gigante, to whom even Gotti was deferential, "Five Families" offers a comprehensive yet never tedious look into New York's five Mob families, or "borgatas" and their successes and failures.

While attention is paid to John Gotti, Raab wisely divvies up his time evenly among the families, avoiding the overkill of Gotti stories other books have fallen prey to. His work on more recent figures is especially interesting.

We have always had a fascination with charismatic criminals, from the old days of the West with Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy, to Al Capone, Luciano and John Gotti. It's the stuff of legend, but we must remember not to become admirers of these outlaws, as Raab points out through his details of some of their meanest and sadistic acts. Nonetheless, it's compelling and a great view into the underworld, its way of life and its prime movers and shakers. Over 700 pages long, and worth every sentence.
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