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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia, Second Edition

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble a while back, and it finally came along in my list of books to read that I own. My original goal was to educate myself on the Mafia for research purposes. I had planned to feature them in my graphic novel, but after rethinking the issue, I decided to replace the Mafia with a different criminal enterprise whose presence made more sense in my chosen setting. But nevertheless, I learned a lot of interesting information in a fun format. I thus spent a large portion of Vacation 2013 and High School Camp reading through this book. I finished it on the way home from High School Camp, which was about a month ago, so here I am finally getting to reviewing it!

Written by organized crime expert Jeremy Capeci, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia, Second Edition tells you all about the Mafia. Starting with the organization and structure of La Cosa Nostra, continuing on with a primer on the various American Mafia families,  followed by several chapters on how the mob makes money, and ending with the modern history of the mob (as of 2004 anyway; more on that later), plus some miscellaneous chapters on things like Whitey Bulger, the media and popular culture's perception of the Mafia, and the murder of Jimmy Hoffa.

I've got to say, this book is dense. With over thirty chapters and 464 pages, this thing rivals The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, another upcoming review (that door stopper clocked in at about 630 pages, with 92 chapters). Of course, being a non-fiction informational guide book, this book is naturally supposed to be long. I felt like I fully understood everything the book was trying to tell me, except maybe about how gambling rackets work. I also don't remember Capeci covering money laundering, but that's okay. Everything about this book gushes information on the Mafia. The author's engrossing writing style is a sight to behold, and I was thoroughly captivated by why the the Castellammarese War was fought, or who Joe Bonanno was, or what brought down John Gotti, the Dapper Don. I learned all sorts of neat little tidbits about the Mafia and the people of whom it consists. Like, for example, how one guy was made consigliore by his boss so that the boss would have an easier time of offing him.

This book also makes it quite clear that "the life" in La Cosa Nostra isn't something to look into. It's fraught with danger, lies, backstabbing, stupidity, murder, pettiness, and a whole lot of other negative nouns. If you're Italian, and you want a short and bloody life, then this is the job for you. It was in this instance that I was glad to be only one eighth or so Italian. It handily dispels the notion of the Mafia as a romantic, chivalrous organization when in reality it's nothing but a gang of greedy bullies who'd just as soon cut off your hand as shake it. That said, this book only fed my interest in the Mafia. A scholarly motivation, I assure you, gentle reader. I doubt I'll ever screw up the courage to watch Goodfellas, but I do have several books on the Mafia further down on my reading list.

Now for some downsides. I felt like Capeci overused certain phrases and words throughout the book, such as the verb "whacked." He also seemed to be rather cavalier in his coverage of the more minor Mafia families, such as the Detroit crime family or the Cleveland crime family, which a quick scan of Wikipedia shows are not quite defunct. He doesn't cover Seattle's crime family at all, which was apparently still active at the time of the book's writing. That in and of itself is an issue; this book is nearly ten years out of date. I don't know if much has changed in the crime world between now and 2004, but I figure that it's not exactly the same. In short, I would have appreciated more info on the smaller crime families, and I hope to one day find a book or something that gives a more up-to-date and comprehensive look at them.

In closing, I commend this book for presenting loads of information, both crucial and trivial, about the Mafia in an engaging manner. It helped to inform me on the accuracy of Son of the Mob, one of my earliest reviews, and helped me conclude that Vince's dad is either a capo, an underboss, or a boss. In light of my newly acquired knowledge about the Mafia, I am considering writing an addendum to that article on how accurate its portrayal of the Mafia was. For those of you who want such an addendum written, please comment below and let me know. Anyhow, I wholeheartedly recommend this book for any crime buffs out there, it being an essential addition to any such person's library. A marvelous reference and guide book if I ever saw one.

RATING: 9/10

Image courtesy of amazon.com