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

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  1,763 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 784 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published August 25th 2005)
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Publius Buy them... Lot of libraries also offer ebooks too.
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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 ...more
Jul 08, 2013 Andrew rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
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
Dec 29, 2010 EOB rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
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 ...more
Letto fino agli anni 80, poi il mio interesse è calato.
La prima metà di questo libro racconta la nascita dell’organizzazione criminale chimata Cosa Nostra grazie al genio di Lucky Luciano, che con le sue regole ferree è diventata la piaga degli Stati Uniti dagli anni venti agli anni ottanta, quando le forze dell’ordine hanno iniziato a prendere sul serio il fenomeno. Si raccontano anche gli albori siciliani che somigliano al banditismo sardo e di altri paesi vessati da continue conquiste. Una na
Mar 04, 2011 Paul rated it it was ok
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
Feb 13, 2015 Diane rated it liked it
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.
Tanya Faberson
Jul 12, 2012 Tanya Faberson rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: analytical, district attorney types
Recommended to Tanya by: no one
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 ...more
Mar 29, 2016 Louis rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
Selywn Raab’s Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires chronicles the origins and evolution of the Lucchese, Bonanno, Gambino, Genovese, and Columbo crime families, often informally referred to as the “Mafia.” One of the more striking features of this book is the extent to which law enforcement, particularly the FBI, denied the existence of organized crime in the United States. It is also intriguing the extent to which the

The FBI’s later efforts,
Sep 10, 2010 Kristina rated it it was amazing
If you want to know everything there is to know about the Mob/Mafia/Cosa Nostra, then read this book. It is extremely well-researched and leaves NOTHING out. When I finished this book, I knew everything--the history of Cosa Nostra in Italy, how it came to the United States, the separate families, the law enforcement officials who investigated them...EVERYTHING. It's fascinating and, until the author goes crazy with the details, a page-turner. I highly recommend it. It's very long long (708 pages ...more
Nov 08, 2011 columbialion rated it it was amazing
The most definitive, comprehensive and historically accurate work about the Mob in NYC. The quintessential "annotated" Godfather. I highly recommend this book as a basic source which informs about each of the NY families. Many books and author's have delved into the specifically different and nefarious exploits of the "Mob", Five Families is a compilation of those histories; from the early origins of the Mafia families "Golden Era", through their eminent decline....and now with focus on homelan ...more
Nov 23, 2014 Josie rated it really liked it
Enjoyable, but at times, it was easy to get lost as to who is with what family, who whacked who, who was into what racket. Thankfully, the author included an appendix that at least lists the bosses and their families.

The book is fairly comprehensive as to law enforcement tactics and strategies used to bring down the leaders of the 5 families. The more modern the case, the more attention is paid to it. There is more information here about John Gotti, for example, than about Lucky Lucciano. This
Oct 28, 2015 Regg rated it really liked it
Once a powerful conglomerate organization, full of individuals devoted to the cause of making money in America, and if viewed through forgiving lenses, devoted to making a better life for themselves and their families, the Italian-American mob has declined into the abyss. No longer will someone stay quiet; instead they squawk to the police. And who can blame them? It is classic divide and conquer by the government--you give us them and we help you out. Without that "death before disloyalty" dogm ...more
Mar 12, 2016 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Five Families is an excellent comprehensive history of the Mafia. It's a well crafted book, weaving back and forth nicely between eras and characters while chapters focus on specific borgatas, capos and crew members. It is slightly weighted more on recent times and RICO convictions but definitely not lacking on the earlier mobsters who formed and developed the five ruling crime families. The history of Cosa Nostra is fascinating, starting as a means to rid the French from Sicily to the predatory ...more
this is an exhaustively researched and informative book that suffers from an editor with too light a hand and at best workmanlike writing. i, of course, am always more interested in the early years, which seemed fairly glossed over (barely the first 15% of the book covers "the rise"); you can tell clearly what raab was most interested in discussing and unfortunately it's parts of the history that i really don't care very much about. it really would have benefited by having someone rein him in wh ...more
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 ...more
Jul 29, 2015 Dachokie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime
You Wanna Know About the America Mafia? Look No Further … Capisce?

As I was totally immersed watching episodes of “Inside the American Mafia” on Netflix, I realized that Selwyn Raab’s interesting and invaluable commentary was what made the series so great. His authoritative knowledge and storytelling ability compelled me to order his book, FIVE FAMILIES, as I was watching the series. If there is one source I would recommend about understanding the “nuts and bolts” of Mafia in America, it would ce
HistoryGeek 42
Jan 18, 2016 HistoryGeek 42 rated it liked it
Like some other reviewers, I felt a sense of relief when I was finally done. Weird, because I did like the book and found it was well written but it didn't GRAB me. It tended to be dry and got a bit bogged down in the law enforcement tactics when I would have preferred to learn more about how the Mafia pulled off major union control (I still don't get how that works even after slogging through this book). It felt like I was reading it forever, it took me a month+ (admittedly, I did stop to read ...more
Aug 15, 2007 Samantha rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in the American Mafia
Shelves: mafia
This is a GIANT book about the five major New York organized crime families from their history to the present.

It is a very well researched book and is extremely interesting. Most mafia books seem to focus on the Gambino crime family and more specifically on John Gotti since he is/was the most (in)famous crime boss since Al Capone.

However, this book focuses on each family - its origins, its hierarchy, the in-fighting, and its downfall. The only thing that I found a bit difficult was remembering w
Jan 06, 2014 Jake rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 30, 2016 Steven rated it really liked it
An excellent accounting of the Mafia, illustrating its crimes, their effect on people and society, the contrast of the media myth and reality, the successes of law enforcement in prosecuting some of the criminals, and a cautionary note about their resurgence. Mr. Raab demonstrates that is possible to research a topic, and report it in an interesting narrative.
Apr 23, 2014 Chad rated it it was amazing
This was a really great history of the NYC mafia families starting around the prohibition era through the present. There were a lot of details I wasn't aware of before reading this book. I'm pretty sure that since this book came out, anyone who has written a movie or TV show about the mafia has read it.
Gary Quien
Dec 15, 2010 Gary Quien rated it really liked it
An extensive and detailed history of la Cosa Nostra in America, with a multitude of guys named Anthony and not always easy to keep track of the many characters, even with the always included nicknames. The five major crime families are centered in New York but the account begins with the first known event, in New Orleans in the late 19th century when the "Black Hand"--Sicilian criminals who preyed on other immigrants--shot and killed police inspector David Hennessey. Outraged locals broke the a ...more
Jan 12, 2016 Scott rated it it was amazing
This was an extremely well-written book chronicling the rise and fall of the Mafia. It was gruesome and unsavory at points, but overall was a fascinating cultural study of the Italian community in New York, the lure of crime, and the corruption of power. I highly recommend this book.
May 06, 2015 N.K. rated it it was amazing
This was a tremendous history of the mafia in the US. Well, in NY anyway. If you have an interest in this sort of thing, I heartily recommend this. Although sizable, it's a fast and fascinating read. Exceptionally well written and researched.
Oct 13, 2008 Tracy rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book about the five most powerful Mafia families. I loved it, but one does get drained by the accounts of violence throughout. There is a lot of great history, but it is so interwoven into the grizzly details that are inescapable. Also mingled in are some of the more humorous stories about the nonviolent pursuits and capers of the top men, made men, and lesser thugs working for crime families. I liked that it gave an overview of each family's roots, its leaders, the successi ...more
Gerry Connolly
Jul 31, 2015 Gerry Connolly rated it it was amazing
Five Families is Selwyn Raab's definitive tome on the Mafia's history in New York. A grisly,fascinating story of massive corruption that pervaded (and still pervades) myriad aspects of life in the Northeast corridor. ...more
Jul 03, 2016 Roy rated it really liked it
Raab really knows his subject and I have read this book several times , it loses momentum in the recent years but then so did the Mafia as the 5 families went into decline.
Dave Scrip
Apr 13, 2014 Dave Scrip rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Definitive History. A comprehensive history of the five mafia families in New York City. Well written by Raab. A lengthy page turner written in narrative form.
Apr 10, 2010 Bob rated it liked it
Thorough history. A few things stood out: a) As a business enterprise, the familes operated on an economical scale apparently bigger than any US corporation, yet this was denied by the FBI, especially by J.Edgar Hoover, who revused to involve much FBI resources into investigating the NY Commission until Kennedy forced him to b) lower level people need to be effective criminal entrepeneurs, because they need to be kicking some money up the line. The historical/journalistic level of detail is inte ...more
Kim Gates
May 01, 2015 Kim Gates rated it really liked it
If you're interested in the history of Cosa Nostra in America, this book is essential reading.
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“The link between gangsters nicknamed for food—Benny Eggs and Johnny Sausage—prompted agents to refer to them as “Chin’s Breakfast Club.” 1 likes
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