Mammoth Mafia Book

Blood Brotherhoods: A History of Italy’s Three Mafias

By John Dickie

John Dickie unfurls a nearly 200-year history of organized gang crime, from its origins in Sicily and Southern Italy to its spread internationally. It’s mammoth and impressive in its breadth and depth. Even more so when you consider that Dickie peels away the secrets of criminal enterprises which normally prefer the recesses of concealment (except when factions assiduously set to betraying and destroying each other). And, given these organized criminals’ penchant for brutal retribution, it’s certainly a brave undertaking; geography, as Dickie amply illustrates, affords no protection from these killers.

The flaw here is that Dickie doesn’t seem to give enough, or any, credit, to the division between North and South Italy, between the rich Italy and the poor Italy, between the governors and the governed. Even those not as well versed as Dickie in Italian history have to wonder whether the three brands of organized crime, Mafia (Sicily), Camorra (Naples), and `Ndrangheta (Calabria and Campania) gained strength and cooperation as a result of this political and economic dichotomy.

Dickie opens his history with criminal mythology, that being a central premise of his argument of highly organized and ritualized organizations. He cites the beginning of modern organized Italian crime coming about shortly before the unification of Italy, around the time of the Second Italian Independence War (1859). From here he traces alternately the rise, crimes, betrayals, and rituals of the three crime groups right up to present time. This includes many of the intrigues, trials, and the various wars and killings perpetrated by the criminals on each other, authorities, and the general public. Dickie pays particular and well deserved attention to the intermingling of criminals and politicians and how each’s coziness with the other spelt turmoil, economic ruin, and untold suffering for southern Italian citizens. Some may consider Dickies frequent and detailed portrayals of murders and other brutalities (the kidnappings are especially repugnant) as sensationalism. However, given his contention that Italy long denied the existence of organized crime, you might regard such depictions as a slap in the face of disbelievers. Along the way, I should add, Dickie manages to cram in enough Italian history to make everything more intelligible.

If you have an interest in organized crime and Italian history, you won’t want to miss this book. Filled with a book’s worth of citations for those who would like to go to the sources, primary and secondary, as well as scores of photos intermingled in the text. w/c

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