The Rise of the Mafia
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.