Book Review
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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

The Rise of the Mafia

Why is the Mafia such a popular subject, even today? Perhaps it was the reminder of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in the US which brought this book to my attention. Perhaps with various ‘mafia’ groups reputedly exerting influence in Thailand, especially in the resort areas today, those with a sense of history then become attracted to the tales of the ‘real’ Mafia.

The Rise of the Mafia by Martin Short (ISBN 978-1-84454-779-1, John Blake Publishing, 2009) has the subtitle of “The Definitive Story of Organized Crime” and the book came from a seven hour TV documentary researched by the author.

“Organized crime is America’s biggest business. According to some estimates, its profits are greater than those of Fortune magazine’s top 500 business and industrial corporations added together.” Those are the opening sentences in this 400 page book.

He has a short definition of organized crime, being “…a self-perpetuating, continuing criminal conspiracy, for profit and power, using fear and corruption and seeking immunity from the law.”

All the ‘popular’ names are covered, with Al Capone, Buggsy Moran and Lucky Luciano all getting their (dis)honorable mentions. In many of the illustrative photos gangsters appear twice. Once alive and the other as a corpse!

It was very interesting to read the origin of the words “rackets” and “racketeers” when applied to the Mafia. The soirees held at Tammany Hall in the 19th century were known as the “rackets” because of the noise, but since the majority of carousers were crooked politicians and their criminal friends, the words gained their corrupt meaning. He also explains the rather confusing and diverse origins of the word “Mafia” itself.

In case you think that the cruel rule of the Mafioso ran out by the 1930’s, author Martin Short details the ritual killings of members of one Mafia family - in Philadelphia in the 1980’s.

He also takes up a somewhat moralistic line quoting, “Take all the men the Mafia may have liquidated over the last half century and they’re like a drop of blood compared to the legalized murders sanctioned by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger and the CIA.”

At times, the book does slip into a list of names of the hoodlums, but if nothing else this does emphasize just how all-pervasive the Mafia became in American society. However, it also shows just how the Mafia worked in a symbiotic relationship with the American lawmakers and senators, eventually taking the controlling hand.

The book does follow a rough chronological format, and as it comes closer to the present day, the rise of other gangs are detailed, such as the Hispanics and Afro-Americans and the Chinese Snakeheads. However, the Phuket Jet-ski operators did not make it into the book, even though they apparently work in a similar fashion.

With a full Bibliography, Notes and an Index and on the Bookazine shelves at B. 450 this is an inexpensive history and a comprehensive look at the rise (and sporadic falls) of one of the most pervasive crime groups in history. The fact that it is still extant today is of no surprise.