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Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic Paperback – August 6, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two heroic Italian prosecutors, mounted an extraordinary legal campaign against the Sicilian mafia during the 1980s. They ultimately paid for their efforts with their lives. But their untimely murders shook Italy so hard they toppled its government. Theirs is a compelling story, full of unforgettable characters, and all of it is tragic and true. And chances are high that you don't know much about it.
Why? Probably because it is about prosecutors. Prosecutors are not sexy. Prosecutors are, almost by definition, uncool. And popular culture is all about cool. Pop culture loves Henry Hill in "Goodfellas," Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" and Tony Montana in "Scarface." Popular culture loves bad guys.
Bad guys may be bad, but they are also cool. They get drunk and do mountains of coke and pull guns on one another and get into situations that are crazy and compelling; they're not likable, but they're always watchable. Good guys, by contrast, seem boring--they're the ones busting up the party the bad guys invited us to. We sometimes admire the good guys from a distance, but it is easier to feel dingy in the light of their halos. Still, we don't necessarily want to be them--they work hard and go home to their wives and live boring lives.
Except for Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
These men were hard workers, yes, but they worked in a truly topsy-turvy world where good was bad and bad was good, where government was riddled with corruption and graft, where outlaws clung to strange codes of behavior whereby killing someone was fine but swearing in front of a woman was unacceptable. In southern Italy in the 1980s, an estimated 10,000 people died in mob-related violence, but fathers sometimes didn't report the murders of their sons to the local police, for fear of retribution.
Amidst such lawlessness, Falcone and Borsellino put together the Palermo maxi-trial, a titanic anti-mafia case that required the construction of an elaborate concrete bunker courtroom and ultimately led to an incredible 344 convictions. Stille recounts the events leading up to this trial with an eye for detail but also the ability to step back and encapsulate the detail; he never fails to see the forest for the trees. Writing about the eve of the maxi-trial, he describes how the prosecutors and their families were confined for their own safety on an island known as "the Alcatraz of Italy." It was, Stille writes, "a telling indication of the upside-down nature of life in Sicily on the eve of the maxi-trial: mafia fugitives moved freely about Palermo while government prosecutors had to live in prison for their own protection."
Fighting the good fight put both men in a bad spot with both the lawbreakers and the lawmakers. Falcone was maneuvered out of his position in Palermo and ultimately assassinated; Borsellino was killed six months later. But their death lead to their greatest triumphs, for their murders awakened a nation to the corruption of the ruling Christian Democrats and caused the downfall of Italy's First Republic.
Ultimately, Stille's book is great not because he tells this story, but because he makes us care. Falcone and Borsellino come off as principled but pragmatic, saintly but shrewd; Stille makes their goodness real and compelling. If you're anything like me, you'll read this and hope someone makes it into a miniseries; you will find yourself rooting for the good guys, and realizing that good guys still exist; you will weep at their deaths, and their ultimate victory.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
so I don't know if it was any good, but the transaction was fine