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Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 785 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; Reprint edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312361815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312361815
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,454 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
5 star
85
4 star
26
3 star
8
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See all 128 customer reviews
Selwyn Raab did an EXCELLENT job!
Avid Reader
I have read lots of books on the mafia and I would have to say that this is the best one I have read, well worth buying.
Craig Chamberlain
Overall a good read although contains some inaccuracies and is a bit rambling.
Elliot Ness

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 119 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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71 of 79 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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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Ed Renaud on January 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
Selwyn Raab spent his career covering organized crime and the depth of his understanding of the five families is very clear in his writing. I bought this book because I love mob movies, crime history and the Soprano's. I was hoping that it would tell the story of the US mafia and it's development trough the last century. On a factual basis, it succeeds to a large degree, but it's structure gets in the way of my being able to enjoy it. I can't tell if this is an artifact of the topic, a forced translation of newspaper reporting into book form or uneven editing. The story of the American mob is in many ways the story of relationships and rivalries. With such a large cast of characters and so much time to cover, there is bound to be a certain amount of shifting between people and places. However the organization of the book makes it feel like your reading an assembly of anecdotes rather than a coherent narrative. The chapters shift focus from family to family, repeat certain details from one chapter to the next and lacks a narrative thread to hold it all together. This is not a trivial complaint for a book that's more than 700 pages long.

If you like details, good reporting and are willing to do a little fishing around, this is a great look at the New York mafia. If you get a little impatient with shifting emphasis and weak narrative structure, look for something else.
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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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