If they still walk down mean streets, it's because the pattern of Italian-American life -- continuous with that of their ancestors from the southern provinces -- clings to la via vecchia, a culture of survival built on the unique familial structure of l'ordine della famiglia. The verities of those complex formulations once created a psychological sovereignity -- the world, after all, has never shown itself to be other than full of hate, suffering, greed; only within the blood family and the extended system of compare and commute was there security and power. But those same truths don't entirely apply in the new world, have not been made to work in terms of the rules of power, nor can they be reconciled with the aspirations and demands of being American. For succeeding generations of Italian-Americans balancing the conflicts in their lifestyle has become increasingly difficult and the parental messages contradictory; get an education, but don't allow it to change you (among the early immigrants schooling was fiercely resisted as useless, even destructive, to l'ordine della famiglia); move in the world, but don't become part of it; grow, but only within the mold of tradition. Gambino, a professor who is second generation on one side of his family, third on the other, is keenly sensitive to the Italian-American dilemma; he analyzes it with the precision of a social scientist, responds to it with the emotion of a parish priest and instructs his paisanos on it with the scholarship of an academic. Occasionally, however, his arguments are erratic, as when he directs his anger at what he interprets as virtually a conspiratorial alliance between nonwhites and upper-class self-styled liberals -- white ""liberal anti-Italian bigots, descendants of slave owners"" -- who find it all too easy to blame the Mafia, hence by extension all Italian-Americans, for crime and bigotry. Prejudice does exist within his community, Gambino concedes, but with double-think he explains it as economic and social -- that the style of street life among blacks and Puerto Ricans is considered a threat to l'ordine della famiglia, whereas Jews and Chinese, family-oriented, are perceived as compatible. But none of this takes away from the impact of Gambino's book -- a forceful exploration into the hidden and not so hidden injuries of a class and the lonely, quiet crisis of an ethnic group.