on April 8, 2006
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. He falls into the unsophisticated, overly simple and even anti-Semitic line of how Meyer Lansky, Moe Dalitz and other Jewish mobsters were merely "junior partners" and "accountants" for the Mafia. Lansky, Shapiro and others were major bootleggers and labor racketeers in their own right. They worked in conjuction and on equal footing with Luciano and Mafia gangs. Jewish and Italian gangsters during Prohibition and after formed a symbiotic partnership. Lansky never would have been as successful as he was without his partnership with Luciano, and vice versa. Lansky and Dalitz took their bootlegging profits and began building Las Vegas, Luciano and Cstello and other Mafia magnates were equal partners to be sure. The hit on Siegel almost certainly came from Lansky. Lansky and Dalitz needed no financial backing or approval from the Five Famlies. The Mafia's later success in skimming the Vegas casinos would not have been possible without the pioneering efforts of the multi-ethnic and sophisticated syndicate that emerged from prohibition.
Raab also completely ignores major bootleg/gambling syndicates such as Lansky/Siegel, Legs Daimond or Waxy Gordon in New York, Boo Boo Hoff in Philadelphia, Longy Zwillman in Newark, Moe Dalitz in Cleveland or the Purple Gang in Detroit. These syndicates needed no backing or permission from any Mafia family to operate and run successful criminal enterprises. After Prohibition, Lansky, Dalitz and others continued to engage in lucrative financial rackets, money laundering, and major casino operations in Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Switzerland and Monte Carlo into the 1970's. These sophisticated white collar crimes dwarfed the more provincial operations of extortion, loan sharking and drug pushing engaged in by most street crews of New York's Five Families. By suggesting that these Jewish criminals could only at the most serve as trusted accountats to Mafia families not only falls into worn out offensive stereotypes but also gives an inccurate picture of the true nature of organized crime.
Raab also gives short shrift to Russian, Asian and multi-national organized crime syndicates operating in the nation today. In making the Mafia the center of organized crime activities he has given a myopic picture of organized crime, past and present. Law eforcement's high profile and much touted focus on the 5 Mafia gangs has probably given these newer criminal syndicates room to grow and expand from the 1980's through today.
Raab sets out to write a history of New York's 5 Mafia Families and he succeeds in spades. His only weakness is taking the mystique of the mafia at face value and portraying them as the end-all and be-all of organized crime in New York and throughout the country.
This review is admittedly, written by someone who knows absolutely nothing of the mafia, it's origins nor impact upon our country. I have, I admit, lead a sheltered life. I have difficulty comprehending the life style in the part of the country (New York, East Coast) where most of this history takes place. It is as far removed from the Ozarks as the planet Mars. That being said, I did enjoy the book, perhaps in part due to my ignorance of the subject or pure naivete. I found the book to be very informative and interesting. It was well written, easy to follow. I do agree with a couple of reviewers in that much of it is probably yesterdays news, but for someone like myself who did not follow yesterdays news, then the story was new and enlightening. I did find following the time line difficult at times and there was indeed a bit of repetitiveness here and there. Overall though, it was not a difficult read and I learned much. I suspect that for those who want more, there are probably better books out there, but that is certainly not for me to judge as I have not read any of them and quite likely never will. I will say though, that if the story between these pages is true, and I have no reason to doubt the author's research, then this is one pretty scary read. Recommend.
Five Families provides a fact-filled chronicle of the Mafia from prior to its becoming organized in the U.S. to the present. It is not a story that wraps itself around a few main characters, as perhaps some dissatisfied reviewers were expecting. Rather Five Families chronicles the Mafia from its inception to its "heyday" through its decline and supposedly to its resurgence(although Raab spends almost no time presenting this evidence). Overall, I enjoyed Five Families for the facts it presents and was surprised by all the very negative reviews it received on Amazon. True, it is not a fast read. Nor is it much more than a chronicle of the Mafia's influence and of its members. Having read many books over the years about organized crime in the U.S, a lot of what was presented was a review of what I had read previously; but much was also new information. I was not diappointed by this and it was basically what I expected. I'm not quite sure if my 4-star rating is inflated due to my considering it to be more deserving than the many 1-star ratings it received or if I would have still given it this rating if I hadn't read any of the earlier reviews. Regardless, if you're in the mood for a book that is loaded with facts and insights into the Mafia, Five Families is a book I think you'l enjoy.
Good books about the American Mafia are few and far between. Most of the ones I've found seem to be self-serving memoirs by former members and associates of organized crime, written in conjunction with professional ghost-writers. These books are okay, but don't really provide me with what I want: a good, solid, informative history of the American Mob and the efforts of law enforcement agencies to eradicate it.
I recently discovered just such a book: "Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires" by Selwyn Raab. Here is a definitive history of the five great crime "families" of New York, written by a former "New York Times" investigative reporter who is also one of the foremost recognized authorities on organized crime in America.
In "Five Families," Raab traces the rise and decline of the five most powerful and influential crime borgatas in the United States - so-called "families" named after their most famous bosses: Bonanno, Columbo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese. These five Cosa Nostra "families" gradually became so powerful that they essentially ruled nearly all of American organized crime from the early 1930s until the 1990s, when their influence was severely diminished by the concerted efforts of local, state, and Federal investigators and prosecutors.
These families were initially organized in 1931 by Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who was, at the time, one of the most notorious gangsters in America. Luciano proposed dividing criminal enterprises in New York City into five "families," with a governing "commission" of bosses. Each borgata would be organized into crews led by "caporegimes," or "capos." There was also a body of strict rules by which all members would live.
Raab points out that for nearly six decades, The Five Families' criminal enterprises ran practically unchallenged in New York. Their power and influence gradually expanded into Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other major American cities. It was estimated that, during the Five Families' heyday in the 1970s and '80s, billions of dollars were illegally diverted from the American economy through criminal activities that included gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, drug trafficking, fraud, hijacking, robbery, kidnapping, and murder.
Raab also traces the efforts of state, local, and Federal law enforcement agencies to bring the Five Families to justice. A heroic and dogged group of investigators and prosecutors, most notably FBI Special Agent Joseph D. Pistone (of "Donnie Brasco" fame) and U.S. Attorneys Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Chertoff, used provisions of the newly enacted Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to indict, convict, and sentence to long prison terms many of the Five Families' most powerful and notorious gangsters.
I found "Five Families" one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. The book is packed with information that's presented in an easy to read and understand manner. Selwyn Raab is obviously a gifted writer whose style drew me in from the book's first paragraph.
It's unfortunate that the Kindle version of "Five Families" is of such poor quality that it seriously distracts from Raab's outstanding research and writing skills. Nearly every page of the Kindle version contains serious typographical errors like wrongly italicized words, incorrect punctuation, and even misspelled words. These errors occur frequently enough for me to deduct one star from my otherwise five-star rating. They all should have been eliminated by more careful proof-reading and editing.
Despite this serious technical flaw, "Five Families" is an important addition to the literature of organized crime, and should not be missed. Highly recommended.
This tome (measuring over 700 pages, plus photos) takes the reader on a journey from the beginnings of the Mafia in New York through the convictions and current status of the 5 families (Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese, Gambino and Columbo) conprising the NY Mafia. Blasting through 50 years of history in about 150 pages, reporter turned author Selwyn Raab then slows down the tale beginning with the 70's, and carefully retells the stories of the fall, resurgence and in many cases decline of the 5 families through the early parts of the 2000's.
Developing some of the personalities like Vincent Gigante, John Gotti, Carmine Persico, Joe Massino and Anthony Casso with a detail that provides insight into both the person as well as the underlying criminal activity, Raab does a fine job of both humanizing and demonizing some of the key players, as well as pointing out the numerous dichotomies in their behavior, family lives and temperments.
On the other side of the law, Raab also does a nice job of fleshing out some of the characters from law enforcement, and pays particular attention and givces significant page space to the development of the RICO Act, which proved to be the basis for the convictions in the 80's and 90's organized crime syndicates.
On the downside, the book tends to bog down is spots, and 750 pages is a lot of detail - expecially when trying to keep names, families, crimes, investigators and timelines straight.
If this is your interest, then this book is great source material - and full of plenty of stories, characters and history. Don't expect to get through it in one sitting, and take advantage of the appendices to keep the players straight.
on October 6, 2014
I mostly enjoyed this book. It's pretty good primer on the Mafia in New York, which is of course, where the Mafia has its strongest presence. It is a long read, and it is somewhat repetitive, but imo, that's kind of what happens when you read about the Mafia. The fun part of reading about organized crime is that you get to read about unique (often uniquely dysfunctional) people doing what they aren't supposed to do, living outside at least some of the normal rules of society. The not so fun part is that you hear about a lot of the SAME people doing the SAME things over and over again since a story about organized crime is a story about a relatively small group of people committing similar crimes again and again. Anyway, this book was written more or less for someone like me I think. I sort of like the true crime genre, but I'm not a mafia junkie. If you're the latter, this book might not be the best idea because its almost the size of a pre-internet copy of my local yellow pages, but probably doesn't contain much information you haven't seen before. If you ARE a mafia junkie and have to have this book, my advice is be prepared to skip around, and treat it kind of like an almanac rather than read straight through it like a novel. On the other hand, given the fact that its so huge and dense, this probably shouldn't be your FIRST true crime book on organized crime either. I think something like Peter Maas's "Underboss" is a better place to start since its pretty light and entertaining (inasmuch as a book that recounts several real life murders can be). For someone like me (I think this was my 4th or 5th "true crime" book on the Mafia) this was a pretty good read. In particular, it was useful for tying together events like the rise of the Italian mob during prohibition and the depression, as well as the later Mafia takeovers of New York's Garment Center and Trash Hauling and Construction industries. Its also useful for explaining things like why the Gambino family still has so many members making so much money in spite of more than 2 decades of mismanagement by various Gotti's, or how the Genovese family maintains so much wealth and power even though its not always so apparent what their hundreds of made members do at all. I particularly liked the sections on Vincent Gigante (a figure who was still kind of mysterious to me personally), and also Joe Massino (It did a good job explaining why exactly he flipped, and also why Joe Pistone felt his conviction and defection was such a noteworthy victory for the FBI, and why Massino was considered the most powerful figure in NYC organized crime even though the Bonnano family was not arguably as important a presence as the Genoveses or Gambinos),
Anyway, without getting too bogged down in the details myself, there's a lot of good stuff in there for the casual (but not quite brand new) fan of Mafia lore. I'm not going to deduct points for the whole, "reads like a newspaper scrap book or text book" thing because, this can be useful. Great story telling can be fun too, but when you're dealing with such an unreliable subject, getting out a good story at all costs can hamper accuracy. The one thing I AM deducting a star for is for Raab's unreliability as a source for factual information. What am I talking about? Well its great for example that Raab describes the induction ceremony as performed by more than one family (for example the Gambinos and the Lucheses) but I'm pretty sure his description of the Lucheses is inaccurate. He gives a specific account of the induction of the induction of Alphonse D'Arco that differs from D'Arco's own description of the same ceremony in some of the details. Since D'Arco's own account appeared in print FIRST (in , he had no apparent reason to lie about the details of the ceremony, and he is generally considered to be both the most accurate and most honest of all the high ranking early 90's mob turncoats, I can only assume his account was correct and Raab's version was inaccurate (maybe he only had physical access to Pete Chiodo and preferred an interview to a secondary printed source?). Also there are other gaffes in certain spots such as the "automatic revolver" which at least one other reviewer also noticed. Even that I can't get too upset with, I've not seen a "true crime" book on organized crime that I felt was wholly reliable (see my review on the known forgery "The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano") but still if someone who knows as little about organized crime as me can tell that your book should have been fact checked better, you were definitely sloppy, so four stars. Recommended for modest fans of organized "true crime" books like me with the caveat that Raab's fact checking is sloppier than it should be.
on September 16, 2014
I found the book to be an interesting account of the Mafia in New York. I was interested because I have been watching the series dealing with the Mafia on The Military Channel for the past several weeks. The book turned out to be quite lengthy and somewhat tedious but engrossing. I came away wondering if New York City was really controlled by Mafia infested unions. I had not realized the extent of union corruption in the the city, I seemed to me that the Mafia had a stranglehold on New York City for most of the Twentieth Century. I wondered if I gave money into the mob during my infrequent visits to New York during my career attending meetings there. I had always heard of The Five families and appreciated the opportunity to learn who was who among the notable gangsters, and to which families they belonged.
on April 3, 2016
I only gave it 4 star rating because it was just so LONG. Lots of great info though and the author's writing style was excellent. I was so pleasantly surprised to have to go to the dictionary so many times to look up words. I really enjoyed this one.
on May 6, 2007
If your a mob freak like me any mob book is a great buy. This doesn't dissapoint. buy it, you won't be sorry.
on August 24, 2015
A good factual history written as a factual history. A little dry in places but very informative. In particular, it covers some lesser known facets of the Five Families and explores some of the causes of the rise of the Mafia - including the role of Sicilian mafia, lack of early focus by the FBI, the importance and early neglect/misuse of the RICO statutes, etc.. Very thorough examination of a fascinating side of American culture