An assiduously researched history of Italian-American immigrants who made careers in crime. Nelli (History, Univ. of Kentucky) is loath to throw the term ""Mafia"" around loosely. He argues that the Sicilian malta was an organization peculiar to the semi-feudal, latifunda areas of Southern Italy. In America, mafia was originally a scare-word, the focus of anti-Italian, nativist sentiments which erupted most spectacularly in New Orleans following the 1890 murder of a police chief. Until Prohibition immigrant gangs like the Black Hand extortionists preyed exclusively on their countrymen, notably in New York which had the densest concentrations of Italians. Syndicate crime, which blossomed during Prohibition, was in fact multiethnic (Jews and Irishmen played major roles). It was also entrepreneurial, dedicated to upward mobility and the American ""success"" ethic, and organized around the delivery of illicit or hard-to-obtain goods and services to the American consumer. Nelli has carefully checked into the backgrounds of the big crime ""bosses,"" the volume of the ""business"" they conducted, and their operations in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, and other profitable cities. He scrupulously avoids sensationalism--to the point of being rather drab.