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Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. For decades these Five Families ruled New York and built the American Mafia (or Cosa Nostra) into an underworld empire. Today, the Mafia is an endangered species, battered and beleaguered by aggressive investigators, incompetent leadership, betrayals and generational changes that produced violent and unreliable leaders and Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. For decades these Five Families ruled New York and built the American Mafia (or Cosa Nostra) into an underworld empire. Today, the Mafia is an endangered species, battered and beleaguered by aggressive investigators, incompetent leadership, betrayals and generational changes that produced violent and unreliable leaders and recruits. A twenty year assault against the five families in particular blossomed into the most successful law enforcement campaign of the last century. Five Families is the vivid story of the rise and fall of New York's premier dons from Lucky Luciano to Paul Castellano to John Gotti and more. The book also brings the reader right up to the possible resurgence of the Mafia as the FBI and local law enforcement agencies turn their attention to homeland security and away from organized crime.


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Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. For decades these Five Families ruled New York and built the American Mafia (or Cosa Nostra) into an underworld empire. Today, the Mafia is an endangered species, battered and beleaguered by aggressive investigators, incompetent leadership, betrayals and generational changes that produced violent and unreliable leaders and Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. For decades these Five Families ruled New York and built the American Mafia (or Cosa Nostra) into an underworld empire. Today, the Mafia is an endangered species, battered and beleaguered by aggressive investigators, incompetent leadership, betrayals and generational changes that produced violent and unreliable leaders and recruits. A twenty year assault against the five families in particular blossomed into the most successful law enforcement campaign of the last century. Five Families is the vivid story of the rise and fall of New York's premier dons from Lucky Luciano to Paul Castellano to John Gotti and more. The book also brings the reader right up to the possible resurgence of the Mafia as the FBI and local law enforcement agencies turn their attention to homeland security and away from organized crime.

30 review for Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gere Lewis

    A more accurate title would have been "New York: A History of Law Enforcement Tactics Used Against the Mafia in the 20th Century". There were too many important Mafia events that were glossed over or omitted for this to truly have been a book about the five families. The primary focus seemed to be on the response that state and federal governments had to the Mafia and the tactics that were used to combat them. It was an interesting read and certainly well researched, although the editor should b A more accurate title would have been "New York: A History of Law Enforcement Tactics Used Against the Mafia in the 20th Century". There were too many important Mafia events that were glossed over or omitted for this to truly have been a book about the five families. The primary focus seemed to be on the response that state and federal governments had to the Mafia and the tactics that were used to combat them. It was an interesting read and certainly well researched, although the editor should be very embarrassed. There were many obvious typos and name switches throughout, basic errors that an editor is supposed to correct and yet failed to do so. If you are looking for books that are actually about the five families, I would suggest something more along the lines of "Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia" by Joseph Pistone or "Boss of Bosses: The FBI and Paul Castellano" by Joseph F. O'Brien and Andris Kurins. Those are both still written by federal agents (or former federal agents) and are, of course, written from that perspective, however, in my opinion they give more information about the families and how they operate than this book did. Read this book if you want to know more about law enforcement tactics and the RICO law.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sean Peters

    Firstly, thanks to my friend Christian for lending me this book, this was a challenge ! A challenge as I have never read a novel with 784 pages and read in 7 days. Well I think just for the research of this book it deserves four stars, the information is incredible, theis has taken many years of research and knowledge. This really is a "History" book of the Five Families of the mafia in New York... A book that as you read you see so many names that sound so familiar, especially for myself after read Firstly, thanks to my friend Christian for lending me this book, this was a challenge ! A challenge as I have never read a novel with 784 pages and read in 7 days. Well I think just for the research of this book it deserves four stars, the information is incredible, theis has taken many years of research and knowledge. This really is a "History" book of the Five Families of the mafia in New York... A book that as you read you see so many names that sound so familiar, especially for myself after reading books on The Iceman, Richard Kuklinsky, and Gaspipe, Anthony Masso. Familiar names like Paul Castellano, John Gotti, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Joseph Colombo, Vincent Gigante, Joe Bonanno, Carmine Galante, Joe profaci, Tommy Lucchese, Anthony Corallo. The History of the "Five Families of the Cosa Nostra in New York, from the 20's to 2003/2005. The careers of the boss's of the families, the downfalls. The amazing thing here is when reading the book is , how many of these famous mafia members when arrested talked and then took Witness Protection. We must have in USA many mafia members living under the Witness Protection Programme, maybe more than those who end up in prison. How many top mafia members snitched/talked about the boss's of the five families. Also how many mafia members are buried and hidden never to be found, hundreds I am sure. This book is like reading a history book, well it was I guess. It is tense and exciting, thrilling, no, but interesting, shocking and brutal. Four stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book attempts to cover a wide period in the history of the New York Mafia - from the days of Prohibition, when the streets of the city were awash with illicit booze and the Mafia was coalescing into an organisation from the disparate rabble that it previously was, to the turn of the twenty first century, when many of the old values put in place by Lucky Luciano in the early thirties were being dismissed by a new brand of more selfish, individualistic mafioso. It is probably the most comprehe This book attempts to cover a wide period in the history of the New York Mafia - from the days of Prohibition, when the streets of the city were awash with illicit booze and the Mafia was coalescing into an organisation from the disparate rabble that it previously was, to the turn of the twenty first century, when many of the old values put in place by Lucky Luciano in the early thirties were being dismissed by a new brand of more selfish, individualistic mafioso. It is probably the most comprehensive book I've read on the topic, not only in the period of history it covers, but also in the depth of information which it provides. It would therefore be fair to say that it is rich in information and very educational for anyone interested in the subject. My main criticism would be that it is not always the easiest book to follow, skipping over some aspects which would perhaps benefot from further explanation. I still do not have a full understanding of how unions and the construction industry were manipulated. A lot of the discussion on the Mafia's influence on blue collar industry were sketchy, making the pages which did contain information less valuable than they would have been had this been delved into in more detail. This only serves to prolong the book unnecessarily. Nonetheless, historical explanation of the origins of the mafia, the lawless escapades of some of the early bosses and descriptions of how mafioso thought and operated were fascinating and made this book well worth the effort required to complete it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Derrick

    Would have gave 20 stars if possible. What an amazing epic tale. I was so sad when I finished reading this book. I didn't want it to end. The most in-depth telling of the five families. I don't ever expect to find a more authoritative book about the American Mafia. I knew nothing of the more "recent" mafia figureheads. This book even goes fairly in-depth about them. Jaw-dropping from start to finish, I was totally blown away. (Maybe a poor choice of words considering the aforementioned subject m Would have gave 20 stars if possible. What an amazing epic tale. I was so sad when I finished reading this book. I didn't want it to end. The most in-depth telling of the five families. I don't ever expect to find a more authoritative book about the American Mafia. I knew nothing of the more "recent" mafia figureheads. This book even goes fairly in-depth about them. Jaw-dropping from start to finish, I was totally blown away. (Maybe a poor choice of words considering the aforementioned subject matter but hey what can ya do?)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    Some years ago curiosity led me to dine at a longtime, local Italian Pitza-rea that I'd passed by many times but never patronized. It was the lunch hour, but as I entered the door the vast place was completely empty of patrons. Expecting a first-class lasagna from the proprietor -- a heavy set fellow with jowls and eyebrows who stood resolutely behind the counter, possibly wondering who this unknown customer was -- I was instead served what was clearly a second-rate soggy thing that had been sto Some years ago curiosity led me to dine at a longtime, local Italian Pitza-rea that I'd passed by many times but never patronized. It was the lunch hour, but as I entered the door the vast place was completely empty of patrons. Expecting a first-class lasagna from the proprietor -- a heavy set fellow with jowls and eyebrows who stood resolutely behind the counter, possibly wondering who this unknown customer was -- I was instead served what was clearly a second-rate soggy thing that had been stored in a freezer and tasted warmed in a microwave. I began to wonder how the guy managed to stay in business so long serving up such disappointing fare, when my answer came strutting through the door in the form of a youngish man with slicked back, Brill-creamed raven hair and an impeccable black tailored pinstripe suit. Plunking himself down at a table like he owned the place, the guy haughtily proclaimed in a staccato voice lifted straight from The Godfather: "Geez, I just played the track and lost a bundle." As he let out a low-key wheezed laugh, I thought: "Holy shit, I've just landed myself into a hive of scum and villainy; this is a Mafia money laundering front business!" I gladly paid the bill and left with a substandard meal in my belly and a prayer to the Saints that I'd escaped with my life. But it was all worth it, just to have a nice little story to tell you guys. This book, Five Families is kind of like that meal, at least in the sense that I was left wanting by its execution, but filled with too many amazing stories. It's a big book about little men who were big bullies. So, reading this massive, sweeping account of the history of the American Mafia, and the vast cast of characters who made up the mafiosi of mid- to late- 20th-century New York, was akin to being at the best Italian wedding meal of your life -- with all the variety arrayed across countless tables ready for delectation but having it served in the wrong order: like having the aperitivo served third, the antipasti served last, the primo piatto served second to last, the secondo piatto served whenever, and dolce -- dessert -- served in dollops randomly in between. It was offputting in the way it was served, but was still the best meal you've ever had. For the record, I've only been to one Italian wedding dinner -- the nuptials of a college friend some years ago -- and it was heavenly; and served in the correct order. Taking into account other justifiable criticisms from other reviewers of the book here on Goodreads, I find myself not disagreeing about the book's dizzying organization of the material, as if author Raab and his editors were a bit intimidated by the task in front of them. But then, intimidation may be apt, given the subject. Raab tries to present this material in a roughly linear order, but does tend to repeat himself, finally doubling back and presenting the stories of the five families in the second half after having introduced them and presented various accounts of their doings, and those of law enforcement, earlier in the text. It's kind of like a Pimsleur language course presentation, layering the material so as to aid in comprehension. I'm not sure it entirely works, but the stories are so engrossing and the grisly doings so wincingly fascinating that the accumulation of it all ends up being a memorable reading experience. This is the difference between a book getting five stars, as opposed to getting five stars plus my personal Silver and Holy Grail awards, designations I only award to perfect or nearly perfect books. Obviously, no one book is going to do justice to the giant story of the American mob, and that's why you need to go to individual accounts of specific mobsters for more detail -- and, of course, there are tons of those books out there. But, for a one-stop, one-source overview, this book is it: a great place to become familiar with the whole crazy quilt kaleidoscope. Even if most of us haven't paid with our lives at the hands of the Mob, we have paid out of our pocketbooks. There is not one American who has not, directly or indirectly, filled the coffers of organized crime, typically through the inflated costs of goods resulting from criminal hands in the till of the most mundane services we all use and depend on. One of the interesting aspects of the book is how clueless and in denial law enforcement, particularly Hoover's FBI, were for decades about the mob and its influence. Only after the efforts ot JFK and RFK and the later advent of the RICO laws did various levels of the law finally begin to catch up to the vastness of the problem and be able to do something about it. As Raab has pointed out, the Mob were the mirror image of capitalism. They just managed to cut out the various inconveniences of legality. Which begs a lot of questions about how irresponsible and inhumane our "legal" businesses operate while exploiting the public welfare within the thin shell of bought-off laws. Unfortunately, it seems, there is always going to be a "mob" of sociopathic elites hellbent on keeping us under their thumbs. They may not "whack" us, necessarily, but they sure as hell will make our lives unduly miserable. That is another subject... [email protected] 2021

  6. 5 out of 5

    EOB

    A poorly edited headache of a book with little to offer on top of its primary sources in the LCN non-fiction canon as to be a near-total waste of time. Somehow includes less material on the pre-Apalachin period than your average Wikipedia article, but packs in more sensational junk about John Gotti than the New York Post and all the books written by his family combined. Departures from its chronological organization are frequent, making an already long and complex history even harder to follow t A poorly edited headache of a book with little to offer on top of its primary sources in the LCN non-fiction canon as to be a near-total waste of time. Somehow includes less material on the pre-Apalachin period than your average Wikipedia article, but packs in more sensational junk about John Gotti than the New York Post and all the books written by his family combined. Departures from its chronological organization are frequent, making an already long and complex history even harder to follow than necessary (even for someone familiar with the subject matter). On top of this a sanctimonious, law-enforcement-triumphalist tone I find unwelcome. I put this thing down after finishing about 70% and read _Donnie Brasco_ instead: I recommend you skip it altogether and go straight to the primary sources.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bookshark

    This is a pretty comprehensive overview of the mob. It's useful for putting a timeline together in your head and there were a few interesting new stories, but the more exposure you already have to mafia non-fiction the fewer surprises will be in store. As an overview, it never really gets into all that much depth about any particular story or individual (understandably, as it would have required a multi-volume set to do that), so you will find a more complete and complex account in books that fo This is a pretty comprehensive overview of the mob. It's useful for putting a timeline together in your head and there were a few interesting new stories, but the more exposure you already have to mafia non-fiction the fewer surprises will be in store. As an overview, it never really gets into all that much depth about any particular story or individual (understandably, as it would have required a multi-volume set to do that), so you will find a more complete and complex account in books that focus on one era/event/mobster. I did find out a few things I didn't know before, though - for instance, I didn't know about all the controversy surrounding Kurins and O'Brien's Boss of Bosses or the various ways the mob infiltrated law enforcement (even the FBI!) or all that much about the Gaspipe Casso stuff. Also the tone can be a bit moral-panicky, especially towards the end. For instance, the commentary on the Sopranos was very silly ("OMG it glorifies the mob" - mmm not really, or at least far less so than the classic mafia films; "a mafia leader could never see a shrink or it would make him look weak" - yep that's a plot point on the show, they deal with that directly; frankly one of the most interesting things about this book was noting which plots from the Sopranos were based on real events!). Similarly, the commentary on gender and the mob seemed like a disingenuous tack-on (it's certainly true that the mob is sexist, but surely the author could have done a better job illuminating that as he told the individual stories of mobsters throughout the book, by mentioning all the cheating and domestic violence and pimping that was happening at the same time as the other crimes and immoralities he found worthy of mention). He does at least occasionally criticize the FBI and the other government investigations, at least.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Faberson

    So I am FINALLY done with this book. It was very good, but at times I felt like I was slogging through it. Considering how much I generally enjoy slog-worthy books (the denser the better), I'm not sure what my issue is with this one. First of all, it was well-written and the information was really interesting. Secondly, I learned a lot of details on mob history I didn't know. But that's it. I didn't look forward to reading it. I certainly didn't choose to read it over knitting or doing something So I am FINALLY done with this book. It was very good, but at times I felt like I was slogging through it. Considering how much I generally enjoy slog-worthy books (the denser the better), I'm not sure what my issue is with this one. First of all, it was well-written and the information was really interesting. Secondly, I learned a lot of details on mob history I didn't know. But that's it. I didn't look forward to reading it. I certainly didn't choose to read it over knitting or doing something else, like listening to my audiobook on the Gulag (it's awesome, but a bit of a slogger, too, in parts). I didn't dread reading Five Families either. It just "was." Kind of like having to read ethnography upon ethnography in graduate school, or worse, articles and more articles on archaeological studies of hunters and gatherers in the prehistoric past. I'm an archaeologist. I should love that shit no matter what. But at times, that shit (coprolites anyone?) was torture. (Good thing I'm a historical archaeologist - no hunter gatherers in places like Louisville and Lexington in the late nineteenth century). Anyway, enough rambling. I guess my point is (finally), that I would recommend this book if you are really interested in the history of the mafia; in particular, the events that occurred from the 1970s through the 1990s. The court case histories probably were my favorite part of the book. It's good. Just don't anticipate anything too sensational. You'll just be disappointed and start watching reruns of The Sopranos, dripping tears onto your biscotti, hoping to finally get your "mob fix" (I didn't do that by the way - it's just with all the mafia stuff on TV these days [Mafia Wives, anyone?], people can't get enough of the sensationalism).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    The definitive book on the mafia. A comprehensive, thoughtful and well-researched look into La Cosa Nostra from its birth until the early days of the century.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    Perhaps a tad bit wordy for what it was.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bill K.

    Loved it

  12. 5 out of 5

    Faye Zheng

    (So I didn’t really finish it, but considering the book was 750 dense pages and I made it through half, I’m counting it.) I’ll admit I wanted to read this because I was watching The Sopranos for the first time, and became really curious about comparing the show with historical facts. That, and I’ve always been a big lover of mafia films and fascinated by the social concept of “crime as a family”. The book did not disappoint. Many parts described scenes straight out of a movie, with violent assass (So I didn’t really finish it, but considering the book was 750 dense pages and I made it through half, I’m counting it.) I’ll admit I wanted to read this because I was watching The Sopranos for the first time, and became really curious about comparing the show with historical facts. That, and I’ve always been a big lover of mafia films and fascinated by the social concept of “crime as a family”. The book did not disappoint. Many parts described scenes straight out of a movie, with violent assassinations, sharp-tongued gangsters, corrupt politicians, ethnic rivalries, and all manners of rackets - except that it was all true. Cool things I learned: - Italian American organized crime originated with bootlegging during Prohibition - the social organization of the 5 families and how their central governance allowed for inter-family peace for 70 years - how the FBI for decades turned a blind eye, even willfully denying the existence of the organization - how Cosa Nostra at their peak was responsible for 90% of heroin trafficking into the US - most amazingly, the not terribly crazy conspiracy theory that the organization might have orchestrated the assassination of JFK I would say that the book was not written not so much for the purposes of entertainment as much as for a comprehensive historical accounting. Readers not as inherently fascinated by the Italian American mafia as I am might find this book to be overly pedantic, but I quite enjoyed the level of detail.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    This is pretty much the definitive book about the history of the mafia, so it will hit the spot for any mafia fix you may have, at least as regards the New York families. I do wish it had more about other families in the country, and I wish there were a follow-up edition discussing what has been happening in recent years. I read some complaints that this was pretty much a summary of law enforcement tactics against organized crime. On the other hand, by definition the Cosa Nostra has been secreti This is pretty much the definitive book about the history of the mafia, so it will hit the spot for any mafia fix you may have, at least as regards the New York families. I do wish it had more about other families in the country, and I wish there were a follow-up edition discussing what has been happening in recent years. I read some complaints that this was pretty much a summary of law enforcement tactics against organized crime. On the other hand, by definition the Cosa Nostra has been secretive, so the only reliable source is usually what the police can uncover. So I'd much rather have this than rumors and speculation by others. Even with Joe Valachi, we saw how an insider can get many of the facts wrong about things that don't concern him directly. Or the Bonanno soldier who didn't know that Costa Nostra meant Our thing (he thought it meant Friends). After reading this my respect for Al Capone and John Gotti has plummeted, while that for Chin Gigante and Joseph Massino has increased. It has remained the same for Lucky Luciano and Carlo Gambino.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    At its best, Five Families reads like a textbook, presenting interesting and exciting events in the dullest manner imaginable. The rest of the time, the book is simply a disorganized mess. Raab obviously did a tremendous amount of impressive research and is able to relate individual incidents in a cogent--albeit tedious--manner. However, Five Families lacks any sort of macro structure. The narrative constantly jumps from one incident or mobster to another. These transitions routinely also involv At its best, Five Families reads like a textbook, presenting interesting and exciting events in the dullest manner imaginable. The rest of the time, the book is simply a disorganized mess. Raab obviously did a tremendous amount of impressive research and is able to relate individual incidents in a cogent--albeit tedious--manner. However, Five Families lacks any sort of macro structure. The narrative constantly jumps from one incident or mobster to another. These transitions routinely also involve a time shift with events in one section often taking place decades earlier than those covered in the previous segment. Getting through this poorly written and terribly edited 785 page behemoth was a true choir.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    You could whack somebody with this book, a 750 page history of the mafia in New York that covers eight decades of gang activity and law enforcement's efforts to curtail it. Raab is a thorough writer, a former NYT crime reporter, and this is a lot of material to cover, but he still desperately needs an editor as there is an abundance of needless repetition and some sections should be eliminated completely. The book starts slowly but picks up speed when it reaches the more "modern" events, includi You could whack somebody with this book, a 750 page history of the mafia in New York that covers eight decades of gang activity and law enforcement's efforts to curtail it. Raab is a thorough writer, a former NYT crime reporter, and this is a lot of material to cover, but he still desperately needs an editor as there is an abundance of needless repetition and some sections should be eliminated completely. The book starts slowly but picks up speed when it reaches the more "modern" events, including the Commission trial in the 80s and the Gotti case in the early 90s.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This is a good book about the Five Families in New York. It focuses on the past fifty years, so if you want a book that covers the 20's and 30's look elsewhere. The author argues that the FBI did not focus on the mafia until Hoover was out. He gives a lot of credit to the Kennedy's in the 60's, the FBI in the 70'-90s and Giuliani as police commissioner and mayor. He thinks 9/11 has undermined efforts as the focus has shifted towards counter terrorism. This is a good book about the Five Families in New York. It focuses on the past fifty years, so if you want a book that covers the 20's and 30's look elsewhere. The author argues that the FBI did not focus on the mafia until Hoover was out. He gives a lot of credit to the Kennedy's in the 60's, the FBI in the 70'-90s and Giuliani as police commissioner and mayor. He thinks 9/11 has undermined efforts as the focus has shifted towards counter terrorism.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Iain

    The five families of New York City: Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese are The Commission or the governing body of the American Mafia, formed in 1931 by Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Since then, the Mob has occupied a larger the life sway over the criminal underworld and the imagination of the public. The myriad of characters of godfathers, cappos, and soldiers, along with the FBI agents, police, and prosecutors who have waged war with each other and played out in the newspapers and ni The five families of New York City: Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese are The Commission or the governing body of the American Mafia, formed in 1931 by Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Since then, the Mob has occupied a larger the life sway over the criminal underworld and the imagination of the public. The myriad of characters of godfathers, cappos, and soldiers, along with the FBI agents, police, and prosecutors who have waged war with each other and played out in the newspapers and nightly news. Hollywood has only amplified this cultural phenomenon taking these stories and immortalizing them in films like The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Gotti, Once Upon a Time in America, On the Waterfront, The Untouchables, The Sopranos, among many others. 'Five Families: The Rise , Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires' (2005) by Selwyn Rabb is a definitive history of this criminal underworld. A New York City based reporter who has gathered a mountain of material over 30 years is finally put into this book. What makes Raab so wonderful is that he eschews legend and suspect anecdotage in favor of a Joe Friday-style just-the-facts-ma'am approach. "Raab divides his mass of reportage into three sections: one on Mafia history to 1970; a second on the F.B.I.'s awakening and the use of new RICO laws that culminated in the so-called Commission trial of 1985; and a final section that charts the subsequent fates of each of the five families, or borgatas, as Raab properly terms them. "In quick, deft strokes, Raab explains how the mob was created in 1931 -- by Charles Lucky Luciano -- as a treaty settling the street battles of two Italian outfits.From there the boldfaced names fly by. Tom Dewey, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Dutch Schultz, Abe Reles -- the gang's all here. "Five Families" sags a bit as Raab introduces the generation of youngish prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who finally rouse law enforcement from decades of slumber to confront the mob in the late 1970's. But he hits his stride when he reaches the gangsters he knows best, those who presided over the Mafia's decline in the 1980's and 90's. Paul Castellano, John Gotti and Sammy Gravano spring to life for the first time in years, and Raab tells their story with precision and gusto." "The book's finest moments are reserved for Gotti's lesser-known peers, scary third-rate mooks like Anthony Gaspipe Casso of the Luccheses, Carmine the Snake Persico of the Colombos and Joe the Ear Massino of the wheezing Bonannos. Their Shakespearean outer-borough downfalls, heretofore banished to inside pages of The New York Post, bring Macbeth to Maspeth. New York's mob families, it seems, could weather Rudy Guiliani and Donnie Brasco, but they were helpless against their own. When Sammy the Bull trashed omertà by cutting a deal with prosecutors, the floodgates of betrayal swung open, never to be closed. Dozens of Mafiosi squealed before heading off to ranch-house retirements in the Witness Protection Program. When a godfather, Gaspipe Casso, joined the rat parade, the Mafia's fate was sealed." An excellent read to shine a light into the mafia underworld. If it's not your thing... "Forget about it!"

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    After reading Michael Cannell’s A Brotherhood Betrayed, I had an itch to scratch for mob books. I read a few others but all roads led to me finally tackling Selwyn Raab’s massive tome on New York’s famous five families. Let’s just say the itch has been scratched…raw. This is as good of a book as could reasonably be expected, considering its ambitious and unwieldy goal of writing a narrative about all five New York mafia families. Having read a lot of mob origin stories lately, I’m glad Raab kind o After reading Michael Cannell’s A Brotherhood Betrayed, I had an itch to scratch for mob books. I read a few others but all roads led to me finally tackling Selwyn Raab’s massive tome on New York’s famous five families. Let’s just say the itch has been scratched…raw. This is as good of a book as could reasonably be expected, considering its ambitious and unwieldy goal of writing a narrative about all five New York mafia families. Having read a lot of mob origin stories lately, I’m glad Raab kind of glosses over the foundations of the New York mafia dating back to the Castelamarrese War and gets to the good stuff: how these families evolved and devolved into the mess they are now. Bootlegging made the mob what it is but it seems like construction, loansharking and gambling are the running threads that keep it as big business to this day. While the mafia doesn’t have the outsized impact it used to have in New York City, it’s ties still run strong and Raab does a great job explaining why. Family-by-family, each important figure gets the treatment. Think of this less as a running linear tale and more of a pastiche as to the different moments that impacted each family, all of which had their moments at the top and the bottom. The book misses out on greatness by this shaky structure. You’d get invested in one timeline and then Raab moves to another. I wonder if it would have made more sense for him to write the story as a collective from the 50s on rather than divert from one family to the next. Still, this is the essential book not just on the New York mafia but the mafia in America. All roads lead to it and it is a must read for those who have interest in the subject.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    If you are fascinated with all things mob, this book is for you. Raab covers a plethora of mobsters and law enforcement agents that interacted, investigated, infiltrated and in some cases arrested the mafiosi. The book is a good "middle-ground" between mafiosi and LOA. Raab covers the rise and subsequent fall of the "Cosa Nostra". The author covers some off the well known mafiosi and some of the not so known. I was really surprised how close the mafia was to the Democratic Party. It was always kn If you are fascinated with all things mob, this book is for you. Raab covers a plethora of mobsters and law enforcement agents that interacted, investigated, infiltrated and in some cases arrested the mafiosi. The book is a good "middle-ground" between mafiosi and LOA. Raab covers the rise and subsequent fall of the "Cosa Nostra". The author covers some off the well known mafiosi and some of the not so known. I was really surprised how close the mafia was to the Democratic Party. It was always known about the Mob's involvement in Labor Unions but this book adds some clarity as to the level of involvement. Although not a political book, it does show the corruption, specifically on the Democratic Party. Some of the former mafiosi covered in this book: Charles "Lucky" Luciano Vito Genovese Frank Costello Carlo Gambino Joe Masseria Albert Anastasia Louis "lepkeleh" Buchalter Santo Trafficante John Gotti Because of the amount characters and the overlapping timelines, the books does travel forward and backwards in time which is a bit of a pain, but not too bad and right away you are back engaged in the story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anu

    This was a very detailed and excellent chronic on the (mainly NY) mafia. Not that much new information to anyone who has studied the subject before, but the writer has gone into lot of effort in viewing the timeline from different perspectives and offers more depth than an average telling of this history. My only complaint is the short analysis in the end of the book about the Sopranos; as an avid fan who has seen the series several times I don't see the show as romanticizing criminals, rather i This was a very detailed and excellent chronic on the (mainly NY) mafia. Not that much new information to anyone who has studied the subject before, but the writer has gone into lot of effort in viewing the timeline from different perspectives and offers more depth than an average telling of this history. My only complaint is the short analysis in the end of the book about the Sopranos; as an avid fan who has seen the series several times I don't see the show as romanticizing criminals, rather it's a view on how horrible, greedy and cold the whole thing is, how talk about honor and principles are warped and how anything - including family - can be sacrificed before profit. This side note takes less than 1 % of the book though, so no biggie. Will probably return to this for fact checking and references on further reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    detailed and authoritative, but long, so so long, with enough careless repetition to indicate poor editing. I don't think I'll read another Mafia book for at least several years. detailed and authoritative, but long, so so long, with enough careless repetition to indicate poor editing. I don't think I'll read another Mafia book for at least several years.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Well written, but VERY long. Wish it was a little more concise. Interesting history of the Mafia in New York. Good choice if you want a meaty non-fiction about a little known topic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael Smith

    If you ever wanted to read just one book on the Mob , this is it. This is an encyclopaedic history of the Mafia and its history. It is full of fascinating stories and gives you a solid grounding in the criminals who operated in it and those who prosecuted them. This is a great read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    A serviceable history of the Mafia. It's comprehensive, but it glosses over the first fifty years or so. The book gets much stronger in its second half, which focuses on the past twenty years. Here, Raab takes on each of the five families in turn, and the figures finally come alive--from the flamboyant (John Gotti) to the sadistic (Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso). Overall, though, the writing never rises above workmanlike, and the book really could have used one more thorough edit, both to cut its length A serviceable history of the Mafia. It's comprehensive, but it glosses over the first fifty years or so. The book gets much stronger in its second half, which focuses on the past twenty years. Here, Raab takes on each of the five families in turn, and the figures finally come alive--from the flamboyant (John Gotti) to the sadistic (Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso). Overall, though, the writing never rises above workmanlike, and the book really could have used one more thorough edit, both to cut its length (topping 700 pages) and to catch nagging errors.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Maulucci

    This is the most thorough mafia book I've ever read. Very comprehensive, yet enjoyable and interesting most of the way through even though it is more than 700 pages. The chapters are short and informative. This is a must read for anyone interested in the American mafia of the 30's through the 2000's in New York City. It details the five families of New York City. Excellent book. This is the most thorough mafia book I've ever read. Very comprehensive, yet enjoyable and interesting most of the way through even though it is more than 700 pages. The chapters are short and informative. This is a must read for anyone interested in the American mafia of the 30's through the 2000's in New York City. It details the five families of New York City. Excellent book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Peter Lance

    The definitive non-fiction book on New York's Commission by an outstanding former NY Times reporter who reported it from the front lines. The definitive non-fiction book on New York's Commission by an outstanding former NY Times reporter who reported it from the front lines.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chase Parsley

    “Five Families” is a very detailed account of the Italian mafia in New York City. From Lucky Luciano creating “the Commission” in the 1930s to the early 2000s, just about every stone is unturned in this book. The influence the mafia families have wielded over time is staggering. Also, it is interesting and sad to realize how the public glorifies the Italian mafia and its leaders (in tv, cinema, etc.). In the end, they are criminals who cause damage to society. If anything, this book proves that “Five Families” is a very detailed account of the Italian mafia in New York City. From Lucky Luciano creating “the Commission” in the 1930s to the early 2000s, just about every stone is unturned in this book. The influence the mafia families have wielded over time is staggering. Also, it is interesting and sad to realize how the public glorifies the Italian mafia and its leaders (in tv, cinema, etc.). In the end, they are criminals who cause damage to society. If anything, this book proves that fighting organized crime is worth the public cost. The best part of the book, in my view, is all the stuff about the various mafia bosses. This was quite a cast of characters! My favorites include: - Frank “the Prime Minister” Costello who ran a very powerful mafia family into the 1950s, was very well-connected, and lived an upper crust lifestyle. - Joe Colombo (reminded me of Gus from “Breaking Bad”) who created a nation-wide Italian-American League to protest negative Italian stereotypes, like the mafia. The whole thing was a cover and he did an impressive job hiding in public! Ironically, he was shot while giving a speech! - Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, who pretended to be mentally handicapped for decades just to throw off law enforcement. Wow! - John “the Dapper Don” Gotti, who had a brief but spectacular reign in the 1980s/early ‘90s. He loved being the boss and was wildly popular, even though he wound up in jail. His right-hand man, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, ratted on everyone to avoid jail, but amazingly blew it by going back into crime, running a huge ecstasy ring in Arizona! You can’t make this stuff up. I rate this one 4/5 stars because it was a bit long (over 700 pages) and a bit heavy on the criminal enforcement side. I would have liked to have read even more about the gangsters themselves. But other than that it is a marvelous read! PS I didn’t realize this, but three of the all-time top mafia fighters were Thomas Dewey, Bobby Kennedy, and Rudy Giuliani!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    I love reading mafia books, but it really depends on how it's written to bring it to life. Raab does an excellent job of engaging the reader and keeping them entertained throughout the plentiful information that is throw your way. But he overdoes it on the info dump. There is quite a bit of information that really isn't necessary or pertinent aside from padding the word count, but the book would read just find without it. I liked the background information that led up to the formation to the Amer I love reading mafia books, but it really depends on how it's written to bring it to life. Raab does an excellent job of engaging the reader and keeping them entertained throughout the plentiful information that is throw your way. But he overdoes it on the info dump. There is quite a bit of information that really isn't necessary or pertinent aside from padding the word count, but the book would read just find without it. I liked the background information that led up to the formation to the American mafia, and everything that led to their downfall, but there was a lot of extraneous information that really bogged down the flow of the story. I was not always a fan of how Raab decided to write it. Once he got to the formation of the families as we know them, he just around chronologically just to give information about that specific family. I understand why he wrote it like that, but it was jarring going from one chapter to the next, or especially, one family to another. You read up to a point that so and so died, and then the next chapter, he's alive and doing stuff with/for other people. The tidbit at the end of the story where Raab talks about The Sopranos was just ridiculous. I get that Raab was trying to make a point that the filmmakers tend to romanticize the mafia, but we didn't need a synopsis of the story and multiple comparisons between real-life and the show. All in all, I would read another book by Raab and just hope for a little less verboseness of non-pertinent information.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mitch

    “This friggin’ guy! A beep a d’boop! That’s the only thing that went through my head while reading this massive tome. Heyyyy! This is sort of the all purpose mob book. At least for New York. You got your Colombos, your Bonannos, your Gambinos, your Luccheses and your Genoveses. A beep a d’boop! All them started because Sicily didn’t really have any government or cops so the mafia took over and made everything shitty for everyone. So people left for America, the spicy meatball! Their criminal ten “This friggin’ guy! A beep a d’boop! That’s the only thing that went through my head while reading this massive tome. Heyyyy! This is sort of the all purpose mob book. At least for New York. You got your Colombos, your Bonannos, your Gambinos, your Luccheses and your Genoveses. A beep a d’boop! All them started because Sicily didn’t really have any government or cops so the mafia took over and made everything shitty for everyone. So people left for America, the spicy meatball! Their criminal tendencies came with and they ended up setting up borgatas and getting into rackets. Shaking down immigrants, gambling, being thieves. Then the beep a d’boops sort of shook out into 5 main groups and Lucky Luciano decides everybody should sit down and figure out how not to fight each other. The mafia isn’t cool. These guys all seem like parasitic pieces of shit. It you’re a New Yorker wondering why everything is super expensive, these assholes have a lot to do with it. They squeeze construction companies, unions, trucking companies, trash haulers, garment makers, etc. Everything is preyed on by the mob and the costs get passed down to the end consumer. So fuck them for that. Also unions seems like total scams and just a way to line slimy pockets. So fuck unions too. A beep a d’boop! Seems like for all the murdering and going to prison the payoff is pretty underwhelming. Mob dudes still live in shitty places like Canarsie and Ozone Park and hang out in shitty deep Brooklyn social clubs. Other than the freedom of not being governed by any laws until you get caught, the life doesn’t seem that enticing. Some of the stories I kinda knew. The Castellamarese War, Gotti/Castellano, Sammy the Bull, The DeMeo Crew, Vinny the Chin. But there were fresh ones too. Gaspipe Casso was a bad man. They should make a movie about him. Anthony Massino was fat and smart. In the end they all turn on each other in some way or another and it is revealed that all of them are disgusting people. A beep a d’boop!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Excellent history of the five major crime families in NY city. Very thorough and well written. It is big book and may be too detailed for some but I found it fascinating. Took me awhile though. While reading the repeated cycles of rise and fall of the great mafia godfathers I kept thinking of these verses from the book of Proverbs. Pro 1:10-19 "My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Excellent history of the five major crime families in NY city. Very thorough and well written. It is big book and may be too detailed for some but I found it fascinating. Took me awhile though. While reading the repeated cycles of rise and fall of the great mafia godfathers I kept thinking of these verses from the book of Proverbs. Pro 1:10-19 "My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse"--my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors."

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