on March 17, 2000
The outsider's nonchalance of chief narrator Henry Hill and Nicholas Pileggi's highly restrained hand in helping him relate his story has resulted in a book which shuns any sense of melodrama and emotional attachment. Instead, we get a highly intelligent, insightful, and funny look at Mafia life, stuffed with fascinating details.
As befits his reporter background, Pileggi stays at a distance. Unlike its offspring movie GoodFellas, where director Martin Scorsese effortlessly blended the smart-aleck text of the book (incorporating it into the film as probably the best voice-over ever written and performed) with elements of suspense, poetry, sensuality, visual comedy, and energy. In Pileggi's book, it's all cerebral. Hill's magnetic personality and storytelling talents make this book an addictive read. Pileggi also flaunts a real editorial talent, skipping out of Hill's first-person account and delving into journalistic mode at the most suitable moments, giving background where necessary, and stepping back to let the reader make the moral judgments as s/he sees fit.
Different from, but the equal of, GoodFellas. I'd take the opposite stance from other people by saying that it's probably better to see the film first; the emotional investment Scorsese weaves into the story offers a rich contrast to the book's neutral tone. And reversing the process will also facilitate the viewer/reader in seeing through the outdated accusation of "This didn't really happen" when watching the film.
This is an excellent book about the life of Henry Hill, a petty mobster in New York State. This book, of course, is the basis for the superb movie "Goodfellas."
While The Godfather is a fictional account of the underworld's upper realm, Henry Hill was a part of the lower echelon of the Mafia. The people that run protection rackets, hold-ups, grand thefts, etc. and then pay tribute to the "made" members of the Mafia, who are mainly pure-blooded Sicilians and who form an elite that people like Henry Hill could do business with, but never quite be part of.
The book is extremely interesting because of the picture it shows us of organized crime "where the rubber hits the road." The most astounding thing I took away from the book is that Hill and his confederates didn't really benefit all that much from their ill-gotten gains. Instead, they tended to literally throw their money away on a silly, lavish, extravagant lifestyle, featuring, for example $100 tips to doormen, big bribes to get the best tables at restaurants, etc. Hill explained that he saw no need to save because he could always generate all the earnings he needed. Wrong!
Most of us are unaware that organized crime is such a large presence in society, costing all of us immense amounts of money. This book drives that point home and it is a shocking revelation.
The other insight of the book, which also comes out brilliantly in the film, is that Hill and his fellow mobsters viewed themselves as far above ordinary schmucks who actually work for a living. After all, why work if you can spend a few hours a day playing the rackets making ten times as much? But after reading the book, the wantoness, pointlessness, and gruesome violence of the underworld is readily apparent, and it is clear that Hill and his associates were ultimately undone by their corrupt lives. The story is one of initial prosperity followed by a descent into corruption, mindless brutality, and ultimately betrayal and prison.
I give the book four stars, mainly for its content and insight. I didn't find the writing to be much better than average, but the subject matter is outstanding, so four stars. That ain't bad.
Henry Hill was immersed in Mob life since the age of 11. Starting out as an errand boy for Mobster Paul Vario, and working his way up to top-level soldier, Author Nicholas Pileggi helps Hill tell his story, and what a story it is! Everybody knows the big things the Mafia does, but Hill clues the reader in on an amazing fact: No crime is too small for these guys. At one point, they buy skinny Christmas trees, have Henry drill holes in them, stuff dead branches into the holes, and sell them to people. The trees look good for a day or two, then fall apart. They are truly crooked in EVERY aspect of their lives.
The bottom starts to fall out of Henry's "Good Life" when his crew pulls off the Six-Million Dollar Lufthansa heist, the biggest cash robbery in U.S. History. Mastermind Jimmy Burke, Henry's best friend/partner-in-crime becomes greedy and paranoid, and starts "Whacking out" everyone who knows ANYTHING about the heist. When Henry is picked up on a drug charge (Boss Paul Vario had strictly forbidden Narcotic trafficking), Hill finds himself in the Mob's bad graces, and since he knows Jimmy pulled the Lufthansa heist, he may just end up Jimmy's next victim....and along comes the F.B.I. with an offer Henry literally can't refuse.....
Wiseguy was made into an amazing movie by Director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), and I was surprised to find that the book is even more engrossing than the movie it inspired. I literally hated to put the book down. The day-to-day business of the Mob is utterly engrossing, and Hill piles the details on so thick, you actually feel like you know him, and Pileggi does a great job of reporting what happened, but never glamorizing Hill, or making us forget who he is, or what he did.
An amazing book. Just amazing.
on January 11, 1998
After watching Goodfellas, my favorite movie of all time, I felt compelled to read the book it was based on. The book did an incredible job of revealing the roller coaster life of a mobster in captivating detail. The strech of the mafia's power was absolutely fascinating. I found myself always cheering for the bad guys and their carefree lifestyles. In the end, however, we find that crime does not pay. It was a shame to watch Henry Hill rat out every friend that he ever had. This is a tremendous book for anyone who enjoys reading about the mob, or crime in general.
on August 6, 2001
Like most others i had already seen the movie "Goodfellas", so i expected quite high things from this books, and i wasnt dissapointed.Although Henry Hill was not a made man in the Lucchese family, he was very close to some top guys including capo Paul Vario who eventually some say rose to underboss in the family,and at one point in the book even mentions meeting with Thomas Lucchese himself,so he did seem to have an good inside knowledge.You had to love Jimmy Burke in the book (de niro's character in the film)i thought they must have exaggerated him in the film but it looks like they didnt.The book takes you on a rollercoaster ride through 20 years of scams, murders and robberies, culminating in the now infamous Lufthansa airline theft from JFK airport,which in the end ripped apart this colouful and charasmatic crew and tuned Hill into an informant, (mind they always have some excuse dont they?)Any mob buffs out there who havnt read it, read it. For me its the best out of the lot.
on January 29, 2001
Pileggi's gripping narrative gives an inside view of life in the New York crime syndicate. Ex-mobster Henry Hill describes his 25-year career as a hijacker, arsonist, and thief. Hill and his associates operated via a combination of bribes, intimidation, crooked cops, and greedy businessmen eager for stolen merchandise (swag). Lest readers be misinformed, Hill's associates (if not Hill) murdered not just renegade mobsters, but ordinary citizens who got in the way. This book both glamorizes and attacks the swaggering, fast-money Mafia lifestyle. Hill entered FBI witness protection in 1980 after his bust for narcotics distribution left him a marked man for having violated syndicate rules against drug trafficking. Director Martin Scorsese turned this book into the superb 1990 movie "Goodfellows." Pileggi followed with "Casino," another fine narrative (and Scorsese movie) that investigates Midwest mob influence in Las Vegas. "Wiseguy" is a very absorbing and informative read.
on August 27, 2005
I'll give WISE GUY five stars. As a matter of fact, I'd give it six or seven if I could. This book is seminal in the Gangster genre, being author Nicholas Pileggi's excellent chronicle of the downfall of the Vario crime family of Brooklyn, and is a literal glimpse through a glass darkly into the real workaday world of organized crime. This book was later the basis for Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS, starring Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci.
Pileggi describes with amazing accuracy the extraordinarily insular old-world neighborhoods of Brooklyn, including the sheer blue-collar ordinariness of most of these `gangsters,' who were known, liked, and given a respectful deference by their neighbors, casual friends and more distant relations. And in truth, 'organized crime' tended to corral 'disorganized crime' and kept muggings, hooliganism, break-ins, and petty thefts, rip-offs, and scamming almost nonexistent.
WISE GUY concerns the doings of one Henry Hill, a lifelong wiseguy turned government informant, and how the lousy rat flipped on his friends to save his own pencil neck. Hill's testimony eventually put most of his friends behind bars, including his patronne, "Big Paulie" Vario, who died in prison at the age of seventy-three.
WISE GUY lacks the operatic overtones of THE GODFATHER, skips the fedoras and the pinstripes, and focuses far more on the day-to-day low-end extortion, strong-arm, and petty rip-offs of a crime family really struggling to survive in a changing post-war world. Their one big score ultimately proves their undoing.
Hill is a human barometer of the effectiveness of the Mob. Hill's decision to turn rat has no moral scruples to it, it is strictly selfish, and Pileggi manages to capture both Hill's fear (of both cops and robbers) and his absolute self-centeredness exquisitely. Hill is certainly no White Knight, and is hardly admirable as the Joe Valachi of his era.
Henry Hill eventually emerged from the obscurity of Witness Protection to become a regular on "The Howard Stern Show," and the proprietor of a GOODFELLAS website, where he now sells autographed mass-produced Mob memorabilia and T-shirts.
on November 19, 2004
Remember in high school when your teacher said the movie was never as good as the book? She had never seen "Goodfellas", one of many film adaptations to supersede its source material ("A Clockwork Orange", "The English Patient" and "A River Runs Through It" being others). But only focusing on the brilliant film that blossomed from its pages is to diminish the revolutionary work that is Nicolas Pileggi's "Wiseguy", the must read companion to one of the greatest films of the second half of the twentieth century.
"Wiseguy" is primarily told through the voice of Henry Hill, one of the most famous Americans to take advantage of the FBI's Witness Protection Program. The book is his story, from his early pre-teen fascination with the wiseguys in his neighborhood, through his involvement in some of the biggest crimes of the 1960s and 70s and finally to the choice he had to make between death, life in prison or ratting out his friends.
The legacy of Henry Hill's truthful account of his life in the mob is that we finally see an unromantic depiction of organized crime. Before "Wiseguy" and "Goodfellas", the popular depiction of the mafia was the regal, operatic characters and events in The Godfather films. While the Puzo/Coppola trilogy may be a better story and may make better films, their work seems unrealistic and almost fanciful compared to the real stories of the mob. Just as "Unforgiven" attempted to correct the mythic idea of the American West perpetuated in the films of John Wayne at others, "Wiseguy" and "Goodfellas" (and now "The Sopranos") do the same for the crime genre.
on April 18, 2012
First of all I am a die hard fan of Goodfellas, and all other mafia movies, so much so I can practically recite them verbatim...Nicholas Pileggi's protrayal of Henry Hills life with the mob is phenominal, I loved the book better then the movie. Love how they got a big description on Henry's military experience and how the Lufthansia (sorry If I butchered the spelling) heist was pulled off. Also enjoyed how Pileggi described how Henry worked the prison system...Highly Reccomended to the avid mafia movie fan and any reader...Stellar Read 5stars all the way
on March 6, 2011
I must admit the only reason I bought this book was because I was stunned by the cinematic genius I believed was 'Goodfellas'.
I believe most of the time if a movie is adapted from a book, they're going to have to shorten the movie, therefore leaving out potential plot points and facts that could give us a little more backdrop on the film. I believe the vibe I got from 'Goodfellas' was a much differant vibe then I got from 'Wise Guy'. While I enjoy both, I think if I want a ride through fast mob hits, handsome faces by leading actors, and charming scenes of suited gangsters while cultural music hits relevant to the time period play in the backgroud, I'll stick to the television.
Smooth operations, well planned heists, and crooked thieves reel me in with this page turner from Nicholas Pillegi. The facts are all there, from Luftsana, to point shaving schemes. This book lays out the hard, nitty-gritty bones of mobster life. The book describes it all; how to get money was to hustle; how the men surrounding the book's main character, Henry Hill, were all vengeful, coniving and murdering.
While I don't feel pity for the man once named Henry Hill, (well, he has changed his name multiple times under Federal Witness Protection guidlines, but if I'm correct he has returned to his former moniker, Henry Hill) I do feel pity for the people who had been swept up in the seemingly glamorous lifestyle; mothers, children, friends. I loved this book, I got a great deal of information that was otherwise lacking in 'Goodfellas', and the author seemed to jump from narration to Henry's point of view with great fluidity. I liked the writing style, I liked the size of the book (fits in a purse or bag beautifully),and the story is just as you'd imagine: unflinching, bloody, interesting, and thrilling. I could not put this book down once I opened it. I'm glad I purchased it.