American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power

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"I love this country," testified Mafia kingpin Frank Costello in 1951. And why not? Only in America could a group of petty hoodlums, in just a few decades, create a national criminal empire.

America Mafia is a fascinating look at how the mob used blood, honor, and entrepreneurship to create a powerful perversion of the American success story.

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"I love this country," testified Mafia kingpin Frank Costello in 1951. And why not? Only in America could a group of petty hoodlums, in just a few decades, create a national criminal empire.

America Mafia is a fascinating look at how the mob used blood, honor, and entrepreneurship to create a powerful perversion of the American success story.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Though the bookshelves cry for mercy under the weight of Mafia literature, Reppetto's book earns its place among the best, in part because he rarely lapses into belly-full-of-lead prose. And by narrowing his focus, he brings fresh context to a familiar story worth retelling: how Italian-American gangs across the country formed a crime organization that, for all the corporate spin about code and honor, was designed to maximize profit and minimize any mayhem that might disrupt the flow of said profit. — Dan Barry
The Washington Post
I doubt that the corporate rogues who fill our headlines today will leave footprints in the sands of crime that are worth going back to inspect 50 years from now. They just aren't as colorful as the Mafia entrepreneurs Thomas Reppetto reintroduces in his new book, American Mafia. The mob was the scum of America's melting pot, with little education and no moral code. But as Reppetto points out, its members had a kind of tribal code and enough moxie that by the end of the 1930s, with their best years lying ahead, the dozen leaders of the national crime syndicate were very rich, were welcome in much of what passed for high society and had considerable influence in politics and commerce. — Robert Sherrill
The New Yorker
In the eighteen-eighties, the legendary New York police detective Thomas Byrnes outlined a simple solution to the mafia problem: “Let them kill each other.” For Reppetto, such a view reflects dangerous illusions about the mob’s foreignness and insularity. Immigrants didn’t import organized crime, he writes; “they found it here when they arrived.” If Italians bested other ethnic groups, it was because they were, in this respect, the better assimilationists. His clear-eyed study portrays a Mafia that managed to be both national in scope and—despite investigators’ hunt for an elusive “Mr. Big”—surprisingly decentralized. Reppetto covers the usual suspects, like Luciano and Capone, but is particularly fascinated by the intersection of mob life with the establishment. He believes that the Mob boss Frank Costello uttered a basic truth about his business when, in 1951, he told the Kefauver committee, “I love this country.”
Publishers Weekly
Reppetto's history of the American Mafia, from its humble turn-of-the-century beginnings in small Italian neighborhoods to the 1950-1951 Senate's Kefauver hearings on organized crime that made the mob front-page news, seeks to set the record straight about one of America's most mysterious organizations. Though Reppetto, a former cop, acknowledges that the American Mafia was an outgrowth of the Sicilian and Neapolitan criminal guilds, he finds only a loose connection between the American Mafia and its old country counterparts. Citing the bad business practices of killers like Al Capone, Reppetto makes it clear that it was the mob's political ties, especially to the Tammany groups in Manhattan and the mayor's office in Chicago, and not murder and mayhem, that made rich men of many Italians (as well as Poles, Irishmen and Jews) who came to America with nothing. Without condoning their tactics, Reppetto makes a strong case that the men who laid the foundation for a national "syndicate" were empire builders along the lines of the Astors and Vanderbilts, and that the Mafia's decline since the 1950s is as much a reflection of the lack of new, strong mob leadership as it is a result of less political protection and a federal crackdown that stemmed from the mob's newfound notoriety. Though this book doesn't answer every question about the Mafia in America, it does present a thought-provoking depiction of the mob devoid of the sensationalism prevalent in many other portrayals. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Reppetto (NYPD: A City and Its Police), a former Chicago commander of detectives and the current president of New York City's Citizens Crime Commission, presents a straightforward history of the formation and activities of the Mafia in the United States from the late 19th century, when a large number of Italians were immigrating to the United States, through the mid-20th century, when the Kefauver Committee's hearings were nationally televised and many of the Mafia's activities were dramatically exposed to the public eye. Working chronologically, Reppetto follows the ascent and growth of the crime families and La Cosa Nostra, offering portraits of nefarious innovators such as Capone and Luciano and covering the move from urban thuggery to organized crime on a national scale. In his seven-page epilog, titled "The Decline of the American Mafia," Reppetto briefly outlines mob activities since 1951 and gives reasons for the downward trend. Overall, this work is a solid, interesting history of the Mob from its birth to its peak years. Recommended for public libraries where there is interest in the topic and for academic libraries supporting criminal justice programs.-Sarah Jent, Univ. of Louisville Lib., KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A particularly well-qualified reporter offers a broad survey of an industry that, as it destroyed the competition, regularly co-opted, enlisted, out-thought, and out-gunned sheriffs and G-men. Yes, Virginia, there is a Mafia, though J. Edgar Hoover tried to pretend otherwise. But, according to this juicy account, organized crime has been less organized and more a loose confederation of geographic fiefdoms. Reppetto should know. The son of a professional gambler who did business with the "outfit," he is himself a former Chicago commander of detectives, longtime president of NYC's Citizens Crime Commission, and author of NYPD: A City and Its Police (2000). His tale covers mob activity from the 1880s through the 1950s, starting in New Orleans with the birth of the indigenous Mafia, as distinguished from the Camorra and the Black Hand. Still-disorganized gang doings spread to the heartland and beyond. Chicago, under the management first of Johnny Torrio and later of clumsy Al Capone, hosted counterfeiting and prostitution. New York, initially overseen by Arnold Rothstein, soon battled over artichokes, kosher chickens, and the rag trade. The big time came with Prohibition, a wonderful opportunity for crooks and cops alike. The story continues in LA, Detroit, Vegas, and Miami, with Thomas Dewey, Estes Kefauver, and the overhyped Eliot Ness chasing the bad guys. The familiar tales, from the Valentine's Day massacre to Frank Costello's hand-twisting on national TV, are related with the alert perspective of a street-smart cop. Dutch Shultz's strange, poetic deathbed ramblings prompt the aside, "Dutch had not previously enjoyed a literary reputation." Chicago florist Dion O'Bannion "sometimessupplied not only the posies but the corpse." Supporting players include Duffy the Goat, Mad Dog Coll, Roxy Vanilla, Tony the Hat, and many capos and soldiers. Minor details may differ from other texts, but Reppetto's reporting touches all bases (excluding recent events) vividly and authoritatively. A fine backgrounder and basic guide to American mob war stories to the middle of the 20th century. (16-page b&w photo insert, not seen) Agent: Andrew Wylie
From the Publisher
"The subject is sensational, but the work is never sensationalistic . . . Any serious mob-watcher . . . will want to have this book. Anyone who reads it with interest will join me in hoping that Reppetto writes a sequel swiftly and as well."

The Sun (Baltimore)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781567319583
  • Publisher: MJF Books
  • Publication date: 3/20/2009
  • Pages: 318
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Reppetto is a former Chicago commander of detectives and has been the president of New York City's Citizens Crime Commission for more than twenty years. He is the author of NYPD: A City and Its Police, a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

From American Mafia :

With the Lupo Morello gang now implicated in the barrel murder case, the investigation got going in earnest. The police had found a small crucifix, sawdust and cigar stubs, and a perfumed handkerchief with a note written in Italian. Police detective Petrosino translated the note as "come at once," suggesting that a woman had lured the victim to his death. An examination of the dead man's stomach revealed evidence of a recently consumed Sicilian meal. Familiar with Morello's restaurant-known for a floor littered with sawdust and cigar butts-Petrosino deduced that the victim had been killed there, and then taken by horse-drawn wagon to the Lower East Side. Yet he had no evidence to back up a murder charge in court: there was a surplus of defendants and a scarcity of evidence. The case was handled in the standard procedure of the day: arrest the suspects, then find the incriminating evidence. And, as often happened, the police came up short, despite the best efforts of the indomitable Petrosino.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: "The Most Secret and Terrible Organization in the World"
1 "We Must Teach These People a Lesson": A Murder and Lynching in New Orleans 1
2 A Place in the Sun: Italian Gangs of New York 18
3 Italian Squads and American Carabinieri: Law Enforcement Wars on the Mafia 36
4 Diamond Jim: Overlord of the Underworld 54
5 In the Footsteps of Petrosino: Big Mike 75
6 Prohibition: The Mobs Strike a Bonanza 91
7 The "Get Capone" Drive: Print the Legend 111
8 Lucky: The Rise and Rise of Charlie Luciano 132
9 The Commission: The Mobs Go National 148
10 Racket-Busting: The Dewey Days 162
11 The Feds: Assessing the Menace of the Mafia 181
12 Overreaching: Hollywood and Detroit 198
13 The Prime Minister 215
14 New Worlds to Conquer: Postwar Expansion 234
15 TV's Greatest Hits: Senator Kefauver Presents the Mafia 251
Epilogue: The Decline of the American Mafia 270
Notes 279
Bibliography 291
Acknowledgments 299
Index 301
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 22, 2009

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    It's obvious that Repetto did his homework when he wrote this book. I didn't feel that it was particularly compelling or that I couldn't put it down. I would recommend it because usually in this genre, there are thousands of names of people that you otherwise don't care about, but he did a good job with sticking with the important figures. On a scale of 1-10...5...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good book but very dry

    Don't get me wrong, I love history and Reppetto definitely did his research on this book, but despite it being very factual and historically correct, it was also very very very boring. There's a million names that gets thrown around, by chapter 3 your trying to remember who's who, and their role. Very confusing. Good book, but after a year of having it, I have yet to finish it. It puts me to sleep!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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