The real story of Mafia life, from one who lived it.
Bonanno (Bound by Honor: A Mafioso’s Story, 1999, etc.), the son of eminent Mafioso Joseph Bonanno and himself a long-serving consigliere to the family, sets the record straight about “this thing of ours,” calling out Hollywood’s inaccuracies about mob life and setting down the history of the mob from its inception in the feudal hills of Sicily to the organized gangsters that have long titillated the public imagination. The author asserts that the traditions and attitudes that would inform Mafia life in the United States originated in Sicily after centuries of invasions and disenfranchisement by legitimate governments, the attendant insularity, secretiveness and codes of honor serving as protection for a cheated and abused people. These traditions came along with the Sicilian immigrants who settled in America and served a similar purpose, offering a mechanism for dealing with a confusing and often hostile new society. Bonanno copiously details the original families that dominated organized crime in American cities, detailing the summit meetings of the Mafia’s governing body and limning the well-known exploits of such famous gangsters as Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone, but his real brief is to dispel the myths about his way of life promulgated by popular culture. Bonanno’s chief complaint is the perception of the Mafia as a rigidly hierarchical body dominated by all-powerful dons handing down orders from on high; in the author’s view, participants in “his world” were largely autonomous, bound principally by shared attitudes and traditions. He is downright peevish on the issue, and his reminiscences are dryly actuarial and utterly without humor, making navigation of the many names, places and events a bit of a slog. Attempting to correct Hollywood myth-mongering, Bonanno swings too far in the other direction, rendering the exploits of shadowy, murdering criminals about as exciting as the minutes from an insurance convention.
A serious, informative look at the Mafia from the inside, but fatally lacking in zest.