The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia

The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Mike Dash
4.1 26

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Overview

The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia by Mike Dash

Before the notorious Five Families dominated U.S. organized crime, there was the one-fingered criminal genius Giuseppe Morello and his lethal coterie. Combining first-rate scholarship and pulse-quickening action, Mike Dash brings to life this little-known story, following the rise of the Mafia in America from the 1890s to the 1920s, from the villages of Sicily to the streets of Little Italy. Using an array of primary sources—hitherto untapped Secret Service archives, prison records, and interviews with surviving family members—Dash has written a groundbreaking account of the crucial period when the criminal underworld exploded with fury across the nation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588368638
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/04/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 157,584
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Mike Dash is a historian with an M.A. from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from the University of London. A former professional journalist whose work has appeared in numerous national newspapers and magazines, Dash is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books, including Satan’s Circus, Thug, Batavia’s Graveyard, and Tulipomania. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.


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First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
jason019 More than 1 year ago
i'm a fan of true crime and i found this book , from actually reading another book by the same author titled satan's circus. for the first family i found very interesting and couldn't put the book down. if you want to know the true history of the americanized mafia this is a must read . it centers around a few main people responsible for the birth of the american mafia. if it wasn't for these guys , people like john gotti and all the other famous gangsters would have probably never surfaced. a must read for a true crime fan. also check out satan's circus, it's about police corruption in new york city at the turn of the century also very well written and interesting.
N_G_Fletcher More than 1 year ago
It seems quite amazing, given the thousands of books published on the mafia both here and in America, that no one before Dr Mike Dash was able to trace their roots among counterfeiters and blackmailers in turn-of-the-century America, particularly New York. Dr Dash tells the somewhat sprawling story of the first Italian crime family to come over from Sicily with great aplomb. I've never read so much interesting stuff about the political and social background affecting the formation of the Mafia in Sicily before, and knew nothing about Guiseppe Morello and his family of extortionists and criminals who carried out some of the bloodiest murders New York had ever seen. He doggedly follows the ups and downs of Morello's career, charting the expansion of his and other families' empires, their connections with other families across the country and abroad, revealing an organized and terrifyingly brutal group who preyed on their own countrymen before turning to the wider populace, and were capable of the most overt betrayals if there was money in it for them. But whatever they did to other Italians, for decades the police couldn't break their own code of honor and get information on their rackets and executions. Most of the relevant police records were dumped in the river in the early 80s apparently, but Dr Dash had the bright idea of tracing this early criminal activity through the operations and reports of the American Secret Service, who were originally set up to tackle counterfeiting after the American Civil War. At that point it's estimated that an incredible half of the country's money was fraudulent. Because the Secret Service were small - something like 9 officers covered the whole of New York - and because they fortuitously handed in a written report every day, Dr Dash was able to trace the painstaking gathering of information and throw light onto the birth of the Mafia as we know it today with his own painstaking researches. He conjors up the atmosphere of the dirty streets of Little Italy, the inter-family feuds, sudden outbursts of violence and the length to which these characters would go to keep their secrets brilliantly, bringing to life what could have been a very dull account. It's a big tale, with a large cast, but somehow you never lose track of who's who and what's going on, no matter how complicated it becomes. Here's proof that decades before most people think the Mafia were operating in America they had roots in all the major cities where Italians had emigrated. If you're interested in American crime and the Mafia, this is a must read book.
Billy_Hardy More than 1 year ago
A first-rate book. A British historian and journalist whose capacity for research appears to be limitless, Dash has dug into tons of primary material - Secret Service reports, trial transcripts, witness confessions, prison records,family letters and police reports from two continents - and emerged with a work of popular history of unusual authority, written in lively, lucid prose, with a strong narrative line and a wealth of anecdote, much of it gory - that seems likely to be the definitive work on its subject for years to come. The First Family is up-close, personal, and full of you-are-there detail, and Dash is that rarity: a perfectionist in his research and a writer who perfectly carves out his story with a pen as sharp as a stiletto. He has a strong sense of place and is surprisingly vivid, almost obsessive in his pursuit of details. His writing style is deceptively novelistic and is belied only by the 34 pages of precise source notes that rival those of some of the more "serious" Mafia writers. When Dash says a murder victim ate a stew of beans, beets and potatoes, you can bet he did; when the victim was all but beheaded by a knife that penetrated his thick, three-ply linen collar, ditto. Even if The First Family weren't a non-fiction chronicle of the earliest days of the Mafia, the book would be worth reading as a perfect example of literary historical non-fiction. And for writers attempting to unearth an obscure story from the long-ago past, Dash's technique is a template. This is writing with authority. P.S. To the author of an earlier, negative review of this outstanding book, I say: check your sources before you write (as Dash invariably does). Dash provides impeccably sourced proof that the Giuseppe Morello arrested in New York in 1900 and 1903 was the same man as the Petru Morello mentioned by Bonanno. He includes a photograph of a plainly one-fingered Giuseppe from the US National Archives, snapped by the Secret Service in 1900, and points out that the New York death certificate of the man Bonanno refers to as "Petru" Morello names him as Giuseppe; also that the NY coroners' report likewise identifies the dead man as Giuseppe and gives a detailed description of the dead man's deformed arm. He cites several sources written by William Flynn which describe this man's deformity, and notes that Secret Service agents nicknamed him "One Finger Jack". Dash also gives clear justifications for describing the Morello family as the "first" Mafia family - plainly stating that they were not the first Mafiosi to arrive in the New World, simply the first for whom there is a clear- continuous history that runs to the present day, which cannot be said of New Orleans. To cite notoriously sloppy and inaccurate writers such as Herbert Asbury and Carl Sifakis in a critique of a careful researcher (and PhD) like Mike Dash seems to me perverse.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
This book was eye opening. It traces the Mafia in the 1890's US to the 1940's. It starts in Italy (Sicily to be exact) tracing the roots of an organization fostered by non resident (and non representative) government, ineffective (and often corrupt) local law enforcement as the factors most prevalent to giving this outlaw family it's foothold. When some of these early criminals could no longer function under the radar of notice in Italy, many sought refuge in the United States, immigrating mostly to limited ethnic ghettos first around New York City. This was just the beginning. Again law enforcement was not adequately prepared to deal with the criminal element in communities where they did not speak the language, had severely limited resources (manpower and money), but especially dealing with people who were used to treating police with grave suspicion if not outright hostility. These criminals knew how to play these advantages to their utmost advantage. Extortion, kidnapping, gambling, liquor, and counterfeiting were rampant. Given victims distrust of authorities most of these crimes went unreported, victims thinking that it was better to just allow these to go on than try and deal with an ineffective police system. Criminals knowing their advantage did not hesitate to use violence to maintain control. Threats, intimidation, physical beatings and even graphic murder were common. Giuseppe Morello aka Clutch Hand due to a physical deformity became the leader of this 'first family' of crime Mafia style. The development of 'the family' its recruitment, initiation, discipline and spread along the eastern seaboard but ultimately most of the urban US becomes inevitable. The authorities (police and FBI) tried to slow this menace and combat its continued existence but were predictably ineffective. It took the extreme courage and dedication of several individuals to stem the tide. Mike Dash delivers a complex and exhaustively researched and documented view of the early development of the notoriously secretive Mafia. It's truly an unforgettable experience.
c_strella More than 1 year ago
I think I was 8 or 9 or maybe 10 when I first saw Pay or Die with Ernest Borgnine. It was my introduction to The Black Hand, and although I was rooting for the Italian Detective (Petrosino), I remember being intrigued by the criminals in the story (all essentially bullies) and wondering how they became so powerful? I was very naive, amici. Fast forward thirty plus years when I'm living in Little Italy. Irony of ironies, I'm standing at a tiny triangular park off the corner of Kenmare and Spring between Cleveland Place and Lafayette Street waiting for someone to drop off money (the irony being I was one of the bad guys) and quickly getting irritated because the guy I'm waiting for is late, when I turn around and read the plaque attached to the fence. Lieutenant Petrosino Park. No, there was no epiphany. I liked what I was doing at the time, especially the fazools, but it did make me wonder whether or not it was some cosmic sign. Another dozen years pass (nearly 10 since I abandoned being a bad guy) and I pick up a book called The First Family, a well-researched and meticulously laid out tome that offers those interested in the genesis of the Italian-American mob a detailed history of its main players and all the social, economic and political variables necessary for its growth and survival. Mike Dash touts a smallish man with a deformed hand, Giuseppe Morello, as the first boss of all bosses in what was then the ghetto of Little Italy. Morello hailed from the small and very impoverished town of Corleone, Sicilly (Si, amici, the same Corleone Mario Puzo wrote about). Already a member of the honored society in Sicilia, Morello came to New York, where returned to old habits (counterfeiting - and not very good counterfeiting, as one of his forged notes was described as having "11 misspellings") - and after finding himself in trouble, reformed his mob family exclusively with people from his home town. The First Family provides individual stories of terror, extortion and revenge (Sicilian vendetta style), and, of course, murder, and those are as intriguing as the story of how poorly the police then pursued the criminals of Little Italy and Italian Harlem, but it most accurately provides us with the harsh reality of what all ethnic criminal organizations/mobs ultimately do to their own people, especially when the pickings are most ripe (when they first immigrate to a new country). It was interesting to read how law enforcement back then also relied on informants with within or close to the mobs to pursue arrests. I can't recount what the author offers in this very interesting book because it would do a disservice to some very polished writing. The First Family is a very well documented account of what happened to Italian immigrants, and how some eventually established what became a national coalition of organized crime. Me, I'm still fascinated with this stuff. It is an undeniable slice of Americana that remains intriguing. Dash makes no excuses for the ruthless Giuseppe Morello or any other form of organized crime. I used to, but that has more to do with what were personal insecurities than reality. More than worth the price of the investment, The First Family is a must read for anyone interested in organized crime, the economics of an immigrant underclass trying to survive in a capitalist society, immigration, law enforcement, Italian and/or American history. My best non-fiction read of 2009 to date.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read from page one on. If you like to learn about the early days of organized crime, this book is a must. The characters are so well described you can see them. Enjoy!
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Do you want to know how the NYC Mib took form? Read this book. This book is a great prequel to "Five Families"
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