When we think of the Italian Mafia, we think of Marlon Brando, Tony Soprano, and the Corleones& mdash;iconic actors and characters who give shady dealings a mythical pop presence. Yet these sensational depictions take us only so far. The true story of the Mafia reveals both an organization and mindset dedicated to the preservation of tradition. It is no accident that the rise of the Mafia coincided with the unification of Italy and the influx of immigrants into America. The Mafia means more than a horse head under the sheets& mdash;it functions as an alternative to the state, providing its own social and political justice.
Combining a nuanced history with a unique counternarrative concerning stereotypes of the immigrant, Salvatore Lupo, a leading historian of modern Italy and a major authority on its criminal history, has written the definitive account of the Sicilian Mafia from 1860 to the present. Consulting rare archival sources, he traces the web of associations, both illicit and legitimate, that have defined Cosa Nostra during its various incarnations. He focuses on several crucial periods of transition: the Italian unification of 1860 to 1861, the murder of noted politician Notarbartolo, fascist repression of the Mafia, the Allied invasion of 1943, social conflicts after each world war, and the major murders and trials of the 1980s.
Lupo identifies the internal cultural codes that define the Mafia and places these codes within the context of social groups and communities. He also challenges the belief that the Mafia has grown more ruthless in recent decades. Rather than representing a shift from "honorable" crime to immoral drug trafficking and violence, Lupo argues the terroristic activities of the modern Mafia signify a new desire for visibility and a distinct break from the state. Where these pursuits will take the family adds a fascinating coda to Lupo's work.
What Salvatore Lupo captures particularly well, against all the stereotypes, is the Mafioso as a modern character: the pure distillate of entrepreneurial and criminal intelligence that illuminates the history of both Italy and contemporary Europe. If we can truly break ourselves of the habit of thinking of the Mafia as a belated survival of Sicilian feudalism and the product of underdevelopment, we will have taken a major step forward, and perhaps even be on the road toward a solution. -- Roberto Saviano, author of Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System History of the Mafia is a tour de force bringing Salvatore Lupo's virtually unequaled expertise about the Mafia, Sicilian history, and Italian politics into play. The book is essential reading for anyone who hopes to be well informed about the Mafia. -- Nelson Moe, Columbia University, and author of The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question For anyone who has grown weary of the fond treatment of the Mafia in American popular culture this book is a tonic. The New Yorker This is not a book of dramatic shoot-outs or even one that lingers long on individual characters. It is a sober assessment of the history of a movement. -- Hugh MacDonald Scotland Sunday Herald With Lupo's History, you become a lot more knowledgeable about the phenomenon. -- Lee Lamothe Toronto Globe & Mail [Lupo] provides a useful spectrum of first-hand historic sources. -- Guy Dinmore Financial Times Lupo carefully indicates and assesses the many ways in which the mafia has been understood...Recommended Choice Well-researched... compellingly argued book, -- Richard Drake H-Italy Lupo... is the preeminent scholar of the nineteenth- and twentieth- century Sicilian Mafia whose research is widely respected for its theoretical analysis thoroughly grounded in original archival sources...but newcomers to the field will nonetheless treasure his brilliant introduction. Italian American Review