is it that gangsters have provided such interest in we (hopefully) law
abiding citizens? Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Ned Kelly, Al Capone and their
ilk are (in)famous names about which much has been written, and movies have
been made. Some should have been forgotten like Mick Jagger’s murder of Ned
Kelly, but the fascination continues.
Gangsters Encyclopedia, subtitled ‘The world’s most notorious mobs, gangs
and villains’ (ISBN 978-1-84340-402-6, Collins and Brown, 2007) has been
written to pander to that need, and like all good encyclopedias is a weighty
tome at 256 pages and many photographic plates, with most as silent
witnesses to the slaying of the mobster. The killings were not usually by
expert police marksmen, but were assassinations by other members of the mob,
including the ironic picture of Carmine ‘The Cigar’ Galante, murdered in
1979, still with his trademark cigar clamped between his teeth.
The book begins with the Gangland Genesis and the sobering words “No record
exists of the first criminal gang, the first corrupt businessman, politician
or police officer. Wherever history is written down, from ancient Rome
through the Crusades and beyond, we find consistent patterns of illicit
collusion among fallible humans great and small, all pursuing the same three
P’s - Profit, Power and Pleasure.” Nothing is new, is it!
The roots of corruption are explored with historical records from Biblical
times to present day Iraq, followed by some examples including the infamous
Tammany Hall, the Prohibition era, the assassination of JFK and ‘Tricky
Dicky’ Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
The fact that organized crime is a business is well documented, from theft,
fraud, racketeering, extortion, prostitution, gambling, drugs, gun running,
endangered species, loan sharking, cyber crime and violence (and that’s just
a few of them). There is certainly much opportunity for the would-be
The book then begins to look at the lives (and deaths) of some notable
gangsters, firstly in the US and Canada in the past 100 years. These include
Al Capone, Dutch Schultz (real name Arthur Flegenheimer and assassinated by
the mob’s Murder Inc. a group of hired killers), Bugsy Siegel (remembered
for being the mobster who invented Las Vegas) and Moe Dalitz (the godfather
of Las Vegas).
From there it is on to South America and the many drug cartels and
interesting folk like Manuel Noriega, who was at first supported by the US
government, then later deposed and imprisoned by that august body, whose
CIA, it is alleged, was covertly financing Noriega! Sometimes it is
difficult to see the real criminals.
The rest of the world gets its fair share of felons as well, with Italy and
the Mafia, France and the French Connection and many more.
At an RRP of B. 1,195 in Bookazine, it is expensive, but is a hard-cover
book, printed on excellent paper stock with well reproduced photographs. It
is a reference volume, and despite the preponderance of US villains to the
detriment of larger entries from other countries (for example, Ned Kelly is
not mentioned), I still found it fascinating. Psychologists would have a
field day, noting the dysfunctional backgrounds of most of the entries.