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Overview

When we think of the Italian Mafia, we think of Marlon Brando, Tony Soprano, and the Corleones& mdash;iconic actors and characters who give shady dealings a mythical pop presence. Yet these sensational depictions take us only so far. The true story of the Mafia reveals both an organization and mindset dedicated to the preservation of tradition. It is no accident that the rise of the Mafia coincided with the unification of Italy and the influx of immigrants into America. The Mafia means more than a horse head ...

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History of the Mafia

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Overview

When we think of the Italian Mafia, we think of Marlon Brando, Tony Soprano, and the Corleones& mdash;iconic actors and characters who give shady dealings a mythical pop presence. Yet these sensational depictions take us only so far. The true story of the Mafia reveals both an organization and mindset dedicated to the preservation of tradition. It is no accident that the rise of the Mafia coincided with the unification of Italy and the influx of immigrants into America. The Mafia means more than a horse head under the sheets& mdash;it functions as an alternative to the state, providing its own social and political justice.

Combining a nuanced history with a unique counternarrative concerning stereotypes of the immigrant, Salvatore Lupo, a leading historian of modern Italy and a major authority on its criminal history, has written the definitive account of the Sicilian Mafia from 1860 to the present. Consulting rare archival sources, he traces the web of associations, both illicit and legitimate, that have defined Cosa Nostra during its various incarnations. He focuses on several crucial periods of transition: the Italian unification of 1860 to 1861, the murder of noted politician Notarbartolo, fascist repression of the Mafia, the Allied invasion of 1943, social conflicts after each world war, and the major murders and trials of the 1980s.

Lupo identifies the internal cultural codes that define the Mafia and places these codes within the context of social groups and communities. He also challenges the belief that the Mafia has grown more ruthless in recent decades. Rather than representing a shift from "honorable" crime to immoral drug trafficking and violence, Lupo argues the terroristic activities of the modern Mafia signify a new desire for visibility and a distinct break from the state. Where these pursuits will take the family adds a fascinating coda to Lupo's work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A dark thread of crime and corruption weaves insidiously through the fabric of Sicilian society in this intricate historical study. Historian Lupo focuses on the Italian branch of the Mafia, following it from its roots in Italy's 19th-century wars of unification to the anti-Mafia maxi-trial of the 1980s and 1990s, and tracing its infiltration of citrus-growing, construction and other sectors of the economy. He rejects the idea of the organization as a holdover from a traditional Sicilian peasant culture with a socially benign ethos of solidarity and honor as a self-serving Mafia mythology. Instead, he argues, mafiosi run a thoroughly modern, prosaic, protection racket, fomenting crime and then posing as intermediaries who can suppress it, seeking protection and wielding influence in the highest economic and political circles, eager to abrogate omertá and cooperate with the police when it suits their interests. Lupo's rather dense academic treatment of the subject presupposes a good knowledge of Sicilian history as it proceeds through highly detailed but too loosely organized accounts of specific mafioso life histories, police initiatives and major trials, in which one often loses sight of the forest amid the trees. There are stimulating insights, but the book is almost as byzantine as the Mafia intrigues it appraises. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
This scholarly treatise on the Sicilian Mafia covers much the same ground as John Dickie's Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. But it's unique in that Lupo is an Italian national and academic (history, Univ. of Palermo) who offers a detailed study of the Mafia's origin in Italy and its later move to America. Avoiding the sensationalism often found in books about organized crime, Lupo makes a rare contribution by combining history and politics, beginning in the 1860s. He explains that the unification of the Kingdom of Italy presented a favorable environment for the Mafia to emerge, as land ownership became increasingly commercialized, with lands held secure under the watchful eyes of the landowner, prominent citizens, and local criminals. Lupo then discusses the role played by totalitarianism and democratization when the Mafia arrived in America, initially in Louisiana, and looks at post-World War II Italy, when the Mafia presented itself as an alternative to the state. VERDICT Given its scholarly bent, this would best serve serious students of the Mafia, particularly its history, or of the history of organized crime.—Krista Bush, Univ. of New Haven Lib., West Haven, CT
The New Yorker

For anyone who has grown weary of the fond treatment of the Mafia in American popular culture this book is a tonic.

Scotland Sunday Herald
This is not a book of dramatic shoot-outs or even one that lingers long on individual characters. It is a sober assessment of the history of a movement.

— Hugh MacDonald

Toronto Globe & Mail
With Lupo's History, you become a lot more knowledgeable about the phenomenon.

— Lee Lamothe

Financial Times
[Lupo] provides a useful spectrum of first-hand historic sources.

— Guy Dinmore

Choice

Lupo carefully indicates and assesses the many ways in which the mafia has been understood...Recommended

H-Italy
Well-researched... compellingly argued book,

— Richard Drake

Roberto Saviano

What Salvatore Lupo captures particularly well, against all the stereotypes, is the Mafioso as a modern character: the pure distillate of entrepreneurial and criminal intelligence that illuminates the history of both Italy and contemporary Europe. If we can truly break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Mafia as a belated survival of Sicilian feudalism and the product of underdevelopment, we will have taken a major step forward, and perhaps even be on the road toward a solution.

Nelson Moe

History of the Mafia is a tour de force bringing Salvatore Lupo's virtually unequaled expertise about the Mafia, Sicilian history, and Italian politics into play. The book is essential reading for anyone who hopes to be well informed about the Mafia.

Scotland Sunday Herald - Hugh MacDonald

This is not a book of dramatic shoot-outs or even one that lingers long on individual characters. It is a sober assessment of the history of a movement.

Toronto Globe & Mail - Lee Lamothe

With Lupo's History, you become a lot more knowledgeable about the phenomenon.

Financial Times - Guy Dinmore

[Lupo] provides a useful spectrum of first-hand historic sources.

H-Italy - Richard Drake

Well-researched... compellingly argued book,

Choice

Lupo carefully indicates and assesses the many ways in which the mafia has been understood...Recommended

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231505390
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 854,887
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Salvatore Lupo teaches contemporary history at the University of Palermo. His research focuses on Italian history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a special emphasis on fascism and the Mafia. He is the associate editor in chief of the journal Meridiana, the most respected forum for the multidisciplinary discussion of the history and society of southern Italy.

Antony Shugaar is a translator and author who received an NEA fellowship for his translation of Nanni Balestrini's Sandokan. His book reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, and he has translated novels by Stefano Benni, Massimo Carlotto, and Carmine Abate, as well as works of journalism by Carlo Levi. He is the coauthor, with the late Gianni Guadalupi, of Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator, and the author of I Lie for a Living.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Antony Shugaar Shugaar, Antony

Ch. I Introduction 1

Ch. II The Revelation 31

Ch. III Guardiani and Profiteers 94

Ch. IV Democratization, Totalitarianism, Democracy 142

Ch. V La cosa loro - Their Thing 198

Notes 277

Index 315

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