Essential for students of organized crime in America. Murder and mayhem buffs will enjoy it too.

THE FIRST FAMILY

TERROR, EXTORTION, REVENGE, MURDER, AND THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN MAFIA

The Mob comes to America, and rivers of blood flow.

The literature surrounding the Mafia is vast, particularly in the glory days of the 1930s and ’40s, but very slight for the first days of the American mob. London-based journalist and historian Dash (Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York’s Trial of the Century, 2007, etc.) fills the gap with this altogether excellent account, which begins, as always, in Corleone, Sicily. Giuseppe Morello—variously known as “The Clutch Hand,” “Little Finger” and “One Finger Jack”—earned his chops as a mobster, starting off with penny-ante crimes and swiftly working his way up to the murder of a corrupt cop. Things got hot after that, whereupon Morello made for New York and set up shop doing much the same work, then branching out to take part in whatever mischief was afoot. Dash swiftly reviews the reasons why the Mafia evolved in Sicily, and why it was so exportable, noting that local habits of keeping quiet and resisting state power proved helpful in protecting the newcomers from the authorities—even though the metropolitan police soon organized an “Italian Squad” made up of Italian-American cops such as the little-sung Joe Petrosino, murdered on Morello’s orders, and Michael Fiaschetti. Dash’s narrative soon involves Secret Service agents, politicos and ward bosses, minor hoods and ordinary citizens, building toward Morello’s downfall. Hubris and retribution figure heavily, as do a slew of second-generation mobsters who had designs of their own, independent of the old-timers. Dash writes with flair and care alike, taking pains to keep a complicated story and a vast cast of characters on track while studding the tale with nicely hard-boiled observations, including, “The one trait Joe Masseria fatally lacked was a talent for diplomacy.”

Essential for students of organized crime in America. Murder and mayhem buffs will enjoy it too.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6722-0

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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IN COLD BLOOD

"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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