Contrary to popular belief, The National Crime Federation--sometimes called the Mafia, or misnamed Cosa Nostra--is not a formal nationwide structure but one that consists of ""local syndicates, each a law unto itself, cooperating with others in enterprises that cannot be carried off so well alone, such as narcotics traffic."" These essays by various hands fall into three categories: a brief historical background (on preorganized crime days, city and Western gangs, corrupt politicians and law-enforcement agencies); the rise of gangsterism during Prohibition; and finally criminal confederation, operative since 1934. But they are not so much about how organizational affiliates are linked as about what organized crime does. New York and Chicago shine with vice and receive the most attention. And the criminals are noteworthy for taking the American way of enterprise and self-reliance at face value and setting out honorably to Get rich, get rich! As Meyer Lansky reputedly said, ""We're bigger than General Motors."" The editors have a treasury of first-rate reporting to rifle and have produced a richly absorbing compilation without a quiet millisecond. Here is Mark Twain on Commodore Vanderbilt the robber baron, and a host of half or wholly forgotten writers describing their times and turf, usually with considerable moral force and irony. Today's organizations have split from the Italian base, so that black hoods now rob blacks and Spanish pistoleros disemburse Spaniards--""This is our money!"" they say. And so free enterprise blooms. One of the punchiest crime books in years.