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Hardcover The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia Book

ISBN: 0385667515

ISBN13: 9780385667517

The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Before the notorious Five Families dominated U.S. organized crime, there was the one-fingered criminal genius Giuseppe Morello and his lethal coterie. Combining first-rate scholarship and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Painstakingly Researched History of the Mafia

It seems quite amazing, given the thousands of books published on the mafia both here and in America, that no one before Dr Mike Dash was able to trace their roots among counterfitters and blackmailers in turn-of-the-century America, particularly New York. Dr Dash tells the somewhat sprawling story of the first Italian crime family to come over from Sicily with great aplomb. I've never read so much interesting stuff about the political and social background affecting the formation of the Mafia in Sicily before, and knew nothing about Guiseppe Morello and his family of extortionists and criminals who carried out some of the bloodiest murders New York had ever seen. He doggedly follows the ups and downs of Morello's career, charting the expansion of his and other families' empires, their connections with other families across the country and abroad, revealing an organised and terrifyingly brutal group who preyed on their own countrymen before turning to the wider populace, and were capable of the most overt betrayals if there was money in it for them. But whatever they did to other Italians, for decades the police couldn't break their own code of honour and get information on their rackets and executions. Most of the relevant police records were dumped in the river in the early 80s apparently, but Dr Dash had the bright idea of tracing this early criminal activity through the operations and reports of the American Secret Service, who were originally set up to tackle counterfitting after the American Civil War. At that point it's estimated that an incredible half of the country's money was fraudulent. Because the Secret Service were small - something like 9 officers covered the whole of New York - and because they fortuitously handed in a written report every day, Dr Dash was able to trace the painstaking gathering of information and throw light onto the birth of the Mafia as we know it today with his own painstaking researches. He conjours up the atmosphere of the dirty streets of Little Italy, the inter-family feuds, sudden outbursts of violence and the length to which these characters would go to keep their secrets brilliantly, bringing to life what could have been a very dull account. It's a big tale, with a large cast, but somehow you never lose track of who's who and what's going on, no matter how complicated it becomes. Here's proof that decades before most people think the Mafia were operating in America they had roots in all the major cities where Italians had emigrated. If you're interested in American crime and the Mafia, this is a must read book.

fascinating and informative: a serious page turner

This book takes you all the way back to the early days of Sicily, when different nations fought over control of the island. Mike Dash lays out the historical background so we can better understand the cultural environment which gave rise to the Men of Respect, otherwise known as the Mafia. Through exhaustive research, Dash follows the early immigrants from Sicily, and how the menacing society slowly transformed from street gangs and hustlers to the nearly untouchable, highly organized and heirarchical "families" of the mid- to late- 20th century. Almost as fascinating are the details of how police work was carried out: no computers or cell phones or surveilance equipment or modern forensics. We sit beside the federal agent Flynn and his men as they sweat long hours tailing suspected mafia. It's astounding how they were able to glean so much information with little to no technology. The best thing about this book is its readability. Dash is a master of pace and tension, and places the exact details so the scenes come alive. The narrative text swiftly moves the reader along, and for those wanting more straight information, the book is heavily footnoted (about 35 pages of footnotes at the end) with an 8 page bibliography. If you have even the remotest interest in the life of the mafia, or crime in general, or American history, then read this book!

A gripping -- and factual -- narrative

Mike Dash does not deal in speculation. He does not deal in retelling rumors, stories long since discredited, or stories that haven't been checked out. Mike Dash deals in facts. When coupled with his ability to paint a vivid picture of real events, it makes The First Family such compelling reading. Dash starts with a brutal murder. There is blood, and a corpse, and a conspiracy, and an investigation. And then it's on to the races as he explores the origins of the American Mafia. Sure, films by Francis Ford Coppola are dramatic and enjoyable, but in many ways the REAL story is just as dramatic. Maybe even moreso. You see, one of this is storytelling. Dash dug through tens of thousands of pages of documents, investigations, transcripts and more to present a very vivid and very real portrait of early Italian organized crime in New York City and beyond. This is unexplored territory, really. We all know about Al Capone. We've all seen the Godfather. But where did it begin? Where did it REALLY begin? Gripping, compelling and all too real, Mike Dash has written the definitive early history of the American Mafia. This is essential reading for anyone interested in organized crime.

Historically Sensational

When I sat down to begin reading The First Family, I assumed I would be reading sensationalized accounts of mob antics. That's not necessarily a bad thing--I'm as big a fan of GoodFellas as the next guy. So I queued up my playlist of Louis Prima and Dean Martin and settled in for a an oversized serving of salacious details. Wrong Or at least half wrong The details are there all right, but the sensationalism is completely absent. This was the biggest literary shocker I've had this year and truly a pleasant surprise. Mike Dash took an approach that was totally unexpected and is brilliant in its simplicity. Instead of amassing a compilation of so-called eye witness accounts--apocryphal accounts that inevitably change with each generation's retelling--he scoured the wealth of official material from those early days to create an actual historical account. By examining the police reports, courtroom testimonies, immigration documents, and family letters he was able to create a historically legitimate account of the early days of the mafia. Why didn't anyone think of that before? Maybe it's the perspective of a foreigner that made The First Family possible. As a British writer, Dash writes with the sometimes objective and sometimes awestruck viewpoint of an outsider who is neither American nor Sicilian. On some of the pages, you can almost hear the incredulous tone of a writer telling us "can you believe this stuff?" That is truly his gift, because Dash wove the gray facts from the countless historical sources into a shockingly colorful story. Yes, the details seemed a little extensive at times, but the level of detail made sense in later chapters when the full account of the Mafia's birth in Sicily explained the mysterious growth of the Mafia in the U.S. I was surprised by the fact that so many news accounts of early Mafia activity in the late 1800s and early 1900s were nothing more than people seeing the ghosts of things that weren't really there. Although the so-called "Black Hand" letters of those days were the product of the high numbers of desperate thugs, there was no "organized crime" at that time. But sadly, with Guiseppe Morello's rise to power in America, the prophecy fulfilled itself and the stories came true. I give high praise to Mike Dash and I thank him for faithfully telling the story of an ugly part of our American history. I only wish it were fiction.

Forget what you THINK you know about the Mob and read this instead!

"The First Family" wasn't what I expected it to be, and that's a good thing. Rather than being yet another drop in an endless sea of books on the mob, Mike Dash's book manages to add some fresh elements to a hoary genre. Dash seeks follow Giuseppe Morello from Italy to America where he establishes his illegitimate businesses. Incorporating genealogical and historical research into the mix, Dash follows Morello and at the same time traces the origins and the rise of the Mafia in America. While most writers focus on the heyday of the Mafia in the 1920s and beyond, Dash seeks to hearken further back to tell the story in greater detail than others have attempted. Dash's combination of being a historian and a journalist makes him a formidable writer as he has not only the flair for writing, but never fails to document his sources. Best of all Dash strikes a balance between writing a book targeted for the mass market that still manages to satisfy the need for documentation. Most people familiar with the mob have likely never heard or read of Morello as he predates the Five Families by a couple of decades. Dash recounts how Morello scratched and clawed his way to success in New York City through an array of illegitimate businesses by the time he was gunned down in 1930. By the time of his demise a number of families had come to replicate his method of operations not just in New York City, but throughout the nation and beyond, becoming the template for how to organize and operate effectively. More importantly Dash strips away the layers of rumor, hearsay, innuendo, and recycled errors that so many other writers take as gospel regarding the Mafia and seeks the straight up truth. Dash seeks the truth from the most reliable public records and then sets about building the story from there; the result is a captivating, direct, and honest story that is truly stranger than fiction. Set aside what you THINK you know about the Mafia and read this instead!
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