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Bill EmblomTop Contributor: Baseball
5.0 out of 5 starsThe Infamous Shady Characters Are All Here
Reviewed in the United States on February 8, 2004
Author Thomas Reppetto has provided us with an interesting history on the rise of the mafia in America, and the reasons for its demise from its once lofty perch. The man behind its beginnings was Johnny Torrio who transferred his operations from New York to Chicago in the early 1920's. The book concentrates mainly on the New York and Chicago areas, but does include Las Vegas and other areas as well. Certain thugs were removed from the scene due to various reasons such as Jim Colosimo who didn't adjust to the times (prohibition), Dion O'Bannion due to cheating on a business deal, Al Capone and Owney Madden due to bad publicity, Dutch Schultz due to reckless behavior, and others due to various mistakes such as maintaining a high profile. J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. ignored any investigation of the mafia. Instead he concentrated on two bit hoodlums such as "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, and John Dillinger who robbed banks during the 1930's. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of the mafia while the second half of the century saw its fall. The Kefauver Committee began investigating organized crime in 1950 and the advent of television in urban areas brought interviews with mobsters such as Frank Costello to the forefront of the public. Although mobsters can find new fields in which to operate, today's organized crime is a shadow of what it once was. This book brings the names of the infamous back to life from the time of the beginnings of the 1920's through the removal of the New York mobsters in the 1980's. Even if you are familiar with the names of Luciano, Rothstein, Genovese, Giancana, and others you will find this a very interesting book to read. I would highly recommend it to you.
5.0 out of 5 starsREPPETTO'S CLASSIC ON THE AMERICAN MAFIA
Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2005
[...] There was a time when a working man heavy with dinner could sit in his cold water flat and savor his evening paper's reports of criminals like Kit Burns, given to biting off the heads of live rats, or Monk Eastman, leader of a gang of twelve hundred, to say nothing of misunderstood fraternal associations like the Gophers, Dead Rabbits, Bowery Boys, and the Five Pointers. That time is long gone. We live in the age of the dull criminal, twin to the dull politician. In this dark period, we have only the occasional book by a boring writer about boring bumblers who have managed, from the viewpoint of the bored working man, to bring crime into disrepute. Today, criminal defendants look like accountants. Thomas Reppetto's American Mafia, however, is not such a book, nor are the criminals in it the slack jawed specimens in yesterday's Daily News. His fact-driven narrative, written in a gentlemanly prose, detached, sometimes whimsical, quietly intellectual, always temperate, never judgmental, is pitched to that tension that draws the hand to turn the page. The book, notwithstanding its perhaps sardonic title, proves that there was no Sicilian based Mafia in this country, except the one created by potbellied reporters who, lacking style, dug into the deep pockets of fiction. Reppetto's book opens in October, 1890 in New Orleans with the sound of a shotgun blast that kills the police chief as he reaches home. His dying words are,"The dagos did it", a foreshadowing of the chapters that follow. Mayor Joseph Shakespeare orders the arrest of every Italian in sight. After a jury acquits six and disagrees as to three, a crowd of 6,000 attacks the jail and murders eight of the defendants. The New York Times deplores the event but can find no one who "deplored it very much". Today, the Times would give its entire thirty pound Sunday issue to the attack. Turning north, Reppetto begins his central theme, the alliance of criminals with corrupt politicians, judges, prosecutors, and police. In detail, he renders the reign of the Morello clan, the protection by Tammany's Big Tim Sullivan of the Jewish gang led by Monk Eastman and the hundreds of thugs led by Paul "Kelly" (née Vaccarelli). He describes Detective Giuseppe Petrosino, a squat, solitary figure, given to playing the violin in his small tenement room, the pursuer of Italian criminals who prey upon their own. He is sent to Italy on a suicide mission to investigate the backgrounds of Italian criminals in America, and is shot to death in Palermo. He lays in state in St Patrick where 250,000 attend his funeral. As New York descends into criminal control, Chicago dives head first into overwhelming crime and official corruption. Prostitution there was so open that its master pimp, Calabria born "Diamond Jim" Colosimo, oversaw about 200 cathouses,one named "Everleigh". Reppetto makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like adjoining convents compared to Chicago. It was as nothing for Anthony D'Andrea, a savage, defrocked Sicilian priest, to set out directly for Chicago to engage in counterfeiting and prostitution. It was there that Johnny Torrio actually organized crime. It was Torrio who, by way of a favor to Brooklyn's Frankie Yale, gave a job to a fat face, thick lipped twenty-two year old from Brooklyn, Al Capone, who had hot footed it out of New York where Irish gangsters wanted to give him something. It was Torrio who arranged for Yale to shoot poor, big hearted Colosimo in whose funeral judges and politicians, snapping their fingers at public criticism, marched in mourning for the loss of their pimp. Meanwhile, crime was doing its usual tango in New York. Partners change, but the music is constant. Police lieutenant Charles Becker waved goodbye from the electric chair for murdering an informer of police payoffs. A police commissioner was fired. Reform administrations appeared in New York and Albany. Tammany's Big Tim Sullivan became insane, escaped his keeper, and was found dead under a train. Tom Foley, allied with Arnold Rothstein, overseer of bootlegging, drugs, and bookmaking, was annointed Tammany's overlord of organized crime. The Sicilians (Manhattan) battled with the Camorra ( Brooklyn). Politicians ran the criminal justice system in the service of crime. All this during Prohibition, that deranged legislative act that would corrupt not persons but an entire society. In Chicago, the city administration made Johnny Torrio the controller of bootlegging, and controlled it was: between 1919 and 1934 there were 765 gangland murders. Capone's gunmen patrolled Cicero's polling places and seized that town and its election. A bullet turned out Arnold Rothstein's lights in 1928, but by the 1930's Chicago and New York gangsters had put together a national syndicate. The daunting stench of crime caused a United States senator to ask President Hoover to send the marines to Chicago. Did I omit the 1929 St Valentine's Day massacre, the usual journalistic pit stop, in which Capone had seven men machine gunned against a Chicago garage wall? Two of his gunmen bragged of their work, were invited by Capone to a banquet, and there had their heads bashed by a baseball bat wielded by Capone. In reward, Capone was given a federal investigation, a multipage tax evasion and Volstead Act indictment, and a sentence of 11 years to reflect upon his syphillis as it progressed towards his ultimate reduction to an addlebrained 48 year old corpse. The next figure in Reppetto's diorama is Charlie Luciano who at 14 arrived from Sicily and settled in this reviewer's silk stocking neighborhood south of 14th Street and First Avenue. He enrolled as a Five Points member and later took the well dressed Arnold Rothstein as his mentor. When Rothstein advised Luciano to stop dressing like a hoodlum and get a "genteel" tailor, Luciano replied, "What do you mean? My tailor is a Catholic". Though Luciano was secretly mocked by many for his reply, he died a natural death in 1962, a leader in international crime, while Rothstein, having lesser intuitive instincts, walked into a death trap in 1928, proving that clothes do not always make the man. In the 20's, an honest to God, so to speak, Sicilian capo, Salvatore Maranzano, arrived. He became the leader of younger Sicilians, among them Joe Bonanno, Tommy Luchese, Carlo Gambino, and Joe Profacio. Joe Masseria, the bloody boss of bosses in 1931, went on an April day to lunch with Luciano at a favorite Italian restaurant of Masseria. Luciano, apparently with the script of the God Father in hand, excused himself and went to the men's room. Enter Joe Adonis, Bugsey Siegel, Vito Genovese, and Albert Anastasio. Exit Masseria with five bullets in him that he did not have when he sat down to eat. Enter from stage right Maranzano, the new boss of bosses. Maranzano soon decides to kill Luciano. Enter from stage left and into Maranzano's office men claiming to be "federal agents", but who in fact were Jewish gunmen hired by Meyer Lansky. With considerable labor they shoot and stab Maranzano to death. Luciano, having long ago changed his tailor, convenes a meeting of gang leaders and declares the end of the boss of bosses style of governance. New York is amicably divided, like a pizza pie, among the leaders. Tammany's Tom Foley is succeeded by district leader Jimmy Hines, and Adonis represents Brooklyn politics. In 1932, Luciano and Frank Costello are powerful influences at the Democratic convention. Adonis supports LaGuardia for mayor. By the mid-thirties, there is an alliance of interstate crime, with Italian gangs controlling organized crime locations. Indeed, such is the opportunity offered by this country to all who would but work for it, that Frank Costello, with an IQ of 97, would name New York's mayor in 1945. As racketeering seeped through New York's labor unions, the clothing, trucking, and other industries, Tammany leader Jimmy Hines, by controlling judges and prosecutors like prostitutes, protects Dutch Schultz and Luciano. Joe Adonis in Brooklyn had similar power over the Kings County District Attorney. No one foresaw in 1935 that a New York County grand jury would on its own investigate industrial racketeering, fending off the countervailing help of what must have been the anxiety stricken district attorney. Governor Lehman appoints, as special prosecutor, 33-year old , 5 foot 6 Thomas Dewey who promptly suits up to pursue Luciano. If you were Luciano, Dutch Schultz's partner, and you knew Schultz had decided to kill Dewey, would you kill Schultz? What did Meyer Lansky advise Luciano to do? Read Reppetto's book. Flying high from the beginning in narrative skill, Reppetto revs it up at this point and maintains that altitude to the end. How did Dewey get Luciano? Did Dewey as District Attorney fire 61 of the 64 assistant district attorneys? What happened to Tammany leader Hines? Who succeeded Hines? Would you cry if it was Frank Costello? Start crying. American Mafia is not only a body count of the corrupt. Reppetto rewards the reader with surprising facts concerning the FBI's origin, J. Edgar Hoover's history of slouching away from organized crime, the infiltration of the movie industry by the mob, the criminal corruption in the political machine that produced President Truman and, for contrast, the striking figure of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., using among other things, Treasury to fight crime. Reppetto offers an example of political arithmetic. If Costello controlled New York County (+1), and Adonis controlled Kings County (+1), what did that add up to in controlling Bronx boss Ed Flynn who had to answer to Governor Lehman and President Roosevelt should New York County and Kings County fall out of their baskets in configuring the Democrat control of New York State? [...]
Thomas Reppetto gives us an account of things that organized crime did in New York, Atlantic City, Cleveland, and Chicago, but not what it was. The effect is the same as reading a number of newspaper clippings. The book is useful for reference but not particularly interesting, and you won't know anything more about inside the "Mafia" or the society that created it than you did before you opened the book.
5.0 out of 5 starsAce all-round explanation of the history American Mafia .
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 12, 2005
If this book had been around 5 years ago, when I first started reading about organised crime, I could have avoided many titles that used fabricated, exaggerated and/or simply recycled information. As it is, I have read dozens of historic accounts concerning the Italian-American crime groups (Mafia, La Cosa Nostra) and Reppetto's book still informed me of facts and events I had not yet read. Its well written without becoming too scholarly and stuffy but, at the same time, it does not sacrifice truth in aid of a better story. A real pleasure to read! If your just starting to read about the mob then this is a God send! It will provide an invaluable all-round knowledge on the subject and leave you with an understanding what I had to read many books before attaining. If your someone who has read several mob books then this is still a great book to read. It probably will have events that you did not know of and, if not, its a great collection of all the most important happenings. Wall to wall major events within the world of LCN. I'd reccomend it to anyone with an interest in Italian-American organised crime and cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed it. A 'must own' for any Mafia fan.