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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Gangsters Encyclopedia

Why 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 mobster.
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.