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Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate Paperback – August 7, 2011
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One of New Scientist blog's Best Books for 2009
Winner of the 2009 PROSE Award in Sociology and Social Work, Association of American Publishers
"Criminals can't advertise their products on QVC, yet the mafia and the yakuza have prospered longer than most Fortune 500 companies. In Codes of the Underworld, sociologist Diego Gambetta examines how criminals communicate without being caught, how they build trust in a world where everyone is crooked. . . . odes of the Underworld is colourful and engrossing: it could appeal to policymakers, academics, laymen or, God forbid, criminals looking to improve their game."--Spectator
"[A]n absolutely fascinating look at the unique problems criminals face when trying to communicate with one another. . . . Fans of crime fiction will love this."--Graham Lawton, NewScientist.com's CultureLab blog
"'A wiseguy sees things if there are wiseguy things to see,' wrote Joe Pistone, the FBI agent better known as Donnie Brasco--the name under which he managed to infiltrate the mob. But what are the wiseguy things to see? And how is a wiseguy to know he isn't dealing with the likes of Joe Pistone? Such questions are among those that fascinate Diego Gambetta. Professor Gambetta, an Italian sociologist based at Oxford University, has managed to wrap himself in the language of economics as capably as Pistone wrapped himself in the language of organised crime. Gambetta is an authority on the Sicilian mafia, but deploys the tools of an economist to understand them and other criminals."--Tim Harford, Financial Times
"Criminals are in constant fear of being duped, says Diego Gambetta, even as they are busy duping others. Yet hoodlums often seek a literal partner in crime. This, he notes, creates a need for both identification and verification of trust in what is generally an untrustworthy milieu. Lacking a miscreants' yellow page, the question becomes, well, how to find an honest crook? Such concerns pervade Codes of the Underworld, a new book by Gambetta, a professor of sociology at the University of Oxford."--Nina Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education
"[T]he best applied book on signaling theory to date."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"In Codes of the Underworld, the Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta uses colorful stories and a minimum of jargon in his quest to analyze how people advertise when their business happens to be illegal. . . . Gambettta sets out to illuminate the world inhabited by these face-tattooed, duel-scarred, razor-brandishing inmates. The result is a book that explains the hidden logic of their behavior in language intelligible to those of us who make it a point to seer clear of both well-armed dictators and well-decorated Mafiosi."--Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason
"[A]n absolutely fascinating look at the unique problems criminals face when trying to communicate with one another--how, for example, do you advertise for a partner in crime, or win trust in an inherently untrustworthy world?--and the ingenious ways they solve them. . . . Fans of crime fiction will love this."--Graham Lawton, NewScientist.com's CultureLab blog
From the Back Cover
"Codes of the Underworld persuasively answers new and provocative questions raised from Gambetta's extensive experience in the study of criminal behavior. He introduces and illuminates a vast field of strategic communication where trust cannot be taken for granted. There is nothing comparable in print, and the book's interpretations will carry well beyond the field of conventional crime."--Thomas C. Schelling, Nobel Prize-winning economist
"This innovative book shows Gambetta's nimble and subtle mind at its best. He combines striking analytical insights with rich ethnographic descriptions."--Jon Elster, Columbia University
"Codes of the Underworld looks at the fascinating array of signals that criminals use to recognize each other, validate their claims of toughness, and induce trust or fear. This comprehensive picture of underworld communication will make a serious impact on further studies of organized crime."--Marek Kaminski, University of California, Irvine
Top Customer Reviews
Gambetta takes a number of criminal actions and views them through the lens of signaling.Read more ›
Start with the obvious question: you're a criminal, and you want to communicate with your fellow-bad guys. How do you do it? That's intriguing on its own. If you know the other bad guy, you can vouch for him (or think you can -- see "Brasco, Donnie"). If you don't know him, you need to much more carefully apply the vetting that we use in the legit world: find someone you know who knows him, ask around about him, and so forth.
Obviously your big concern as an underworld fellow is the police. They're constantly trying to listen in on your communications, get fellow bad guys to turn state's evidence, and plant undercover cops in your midst.
When your organization reaches a certain level of success and infamy -- think of the Mafia here -- you now have a brand to protect. Rival organizations start claiming your name to strike fear into their enemies' hearts. To avoid brand dilution, you need to make sure that only those people who are actually in the Mafia say they're in the Mafia. Trademark law isn't going to protect you here, so you need to enforce your own brand.
And how do your establish your bona fides as a bad guy? One intensely fascinating thread in Codes to the Underworld has to do with commitment strategies: imposing some heavy cost on yourself -- some cost that absolutely no one outside the Mafia (or whichever group) would ever think of faking. Henry Farrell, over at Crooked Timber, excerpts one amazing bit on this score:
Erefaan's face is covered in tattoos.Read more ›
The freelance assassin-for-hire that appears in so many movies and comic books is a myth; this book demonstrates that it would be impossible for such a person impossible to advertise his skills, safeguard his contracts, and yet conceal himself from the law. Hitmen work exclusively for the criminal organization that recruited and trained them, and they do not do odd jobs.
Many criminal organizations such as the Mafia often display bizarre practices that are often mistaken for mystical traditions - eg the burning of a saint and the ritualistic defilement of corpses - when in fact they are simply signals designed by people who cannot afford to put incriminating information in print.
Gambetta analyzes how criminals are able to coordinate, advertise, etc. in a highly risky environment. It's an academic work, but well suited for the layperson. Full of interesting anecdotes and theories. Highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had fun reading it. It sort of slid sideways into the subject, but by the end I figured it out.Published on May 1, 2014 by S. Keith Labrecque
got the book in the library, expected more from it.
gets boring pretty quick.
non-fiction books by Marc MacYoung and Peyton Quinn are much more relevant, or... Read more