Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: The Mafia by Marco Gasparini

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "An illustrated history of the Mafia, focusing on this highly developed criminal organization both as a cult subject and an important social phenomenon. Movie classics like The Godfather epitomize our fascination with the underworld of the Mafia, conjuring images of cigar-smoking dons and shoot-outs in pizzerias. But behind the romantic myths of "men of honor" and omertà lies a very real world of murder, racketeering, and organized crime. Marco Gasparini traces the evolution of the Mafia from nineteenth-century Sicily to the streets of twentieth-century New York, to the international cartels that rule the illegal drug and arms trades today..."

Review: Like many people, I've had a fascination and curiosity about the mafia and what fuels it today.  This book, however, really helped me put together the history of the mafia in what was essentially a coffee table book that nails down the background, beginnings, and big players in this legendary crime powerhouse.  What I especially liked about this book was the organized way that Gasparini broke down the history.  In the book, he takes us back to the foundation in Sicily, Italy and what the mafia meant in the beginning.  Since I had often heard ex-mafia family members say on television that it was an organization that was created to "take care of ones own," especially here in the United States, I always thought it had some creepy, honor code behind it.  What I found through this book, however, was that it really was motivated by thug mentality that hid behind a code of honor.  Originally, it was a band of men who grouped together to basically tax all the landowners and workers in their area.  When people were too poor or resisted their brute ways, they sliced their faces and terrorized their families to make a point to everyone that this is what would happen if they resisted their control.  Needless to say, the history and reports over the last century have blown my mind.  The number of retaliations, murders, and criminal activities are shocking to me.  

Gasparini really helped to put a human face to the victims.  In the book, he showed news clippings and pictures of people the mafia held as ransom (one a little boy that they kidnapped to prevent his father who was in prison from ratting them out, who they later murdered) or were caught in the crossfires of grudge matches.  I can't even imagine what judge or police officer would dare go against these men, especially when so many of them were murdered along the way.  It was all pretty nauseating and frightening.  To be honest, the one thing the book leaves open is how the mafia can be stopped.  From the way the book lays out their history, their power seems endless.  Yes, they have captured and put away hundreds of powerful players and their pawns, but the system is very much still in place.  It's all very frightening.

If you're at all interested in learning some of the history of the mafia, but don't want to read a 400 page break down, this is a great place to turn.  Although it seems like a giant coffee table-like book, there is plenty of history and information to help fill you in.  I highly recommend it and think it is a great way into what I'm now realizing is a pretty convoluted history.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.


  1. Did you ever watch the mini-series about the mafia? I think it first aired on A&E. I learned a lot from it!

    1. No, I don't think I caught that one. What was it called? Was it very long ago?