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

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  1,788 Ratings  ·  99 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
ebook, 784 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published August 25th 2005)
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Jul 18, 2007 Jeremiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the history of organized crime in America.
So far, this is has been a very good read and one of the best books I've read on the American mafia and it's beginnings, history and current role in America. Fan of The Soprano's, Goodfellas, The Godfather movies, Bugsy, etc.? Then this is the book for you.

There are a lot of characters and names, so it can get confusing at times. But, this book does paint a vivid picture of the inner-workings of the mafia (the things they do that you don't hear about.)

Overall, extremely fascinating and educati
Aug 16, 2007 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is, in my understanding, the paramount history of the New York five families. I read it because I became really interested in the workings of the mafia while working for the U.S. Attorney's Office this summer and watching the trial of Vinny "Gorgeous" Basciano. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the mafia, including as a sort of reference book. Though it held my attention almost to the end and for such a history was tremendously well written, my one complaint is that at about ...more
Aug 15, 2007 Samantha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 13, 2008 Tracy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2010 Bob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 04, 2011 Paul rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Gary Quien
Dec 15, 2010 Gary Quien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2010 EOB rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Very informative picture of the New York Mafia from the time of Lucky Luciano until about 2004. Many chapters seemed a bit long and it took a while to read, but it was worth it. A lot of reviews posted elsewhere complained about the large amount of coverage of John Gotti. I think the amount was appropriate. John Gotti was the premier don of our time. He was a media super star so of course he would be covered a lot, plus his influence reshaped many mafia policies.
Nov 08, 2011 columbialion rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 04, 2012 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another book club selection, which I unfortunately couldn't make it all the way through.

What was most interesting to me is not as much which Don killed which other Don, but more of the social, political and economic factors that aided the rise of the Mafia in America, such as Prohibition and the ascent of Fascism in Italy. It was also interesting to read how J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI for years ignored and downplayed the threat of the Mafia.
Tanya Faberson
Jul 12, 2012 Tanya Faberson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 12, 2013 Aileen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This has been my bedside reading for the past several weeks. If you're a fan of true-crime Mafia books, this is one of the most comprehensive books about LCN that you'll find. Never sensationalist, Raab chronicles the rise and fall of the Mob in the US, the formation of "The Commission," and the internecine struggles that finally fractured and nearly dismantled the Five Families. (I say nearly, because if you think they're gone, think again.)

Fascinating book.
Jan 06, 2014 Jake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 08, 2013 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 23, 2014 Josie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 13, 2015 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 29, 2015 Dachokie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 28, 2015 Regg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Yadira  Denisse
This book was very informative. However it is extremely long… I got the audiobook version of it and it took about 33 hours for the entire book to finish. Moby Dick is 37 hours long... is ridiculous.

For somebody who is very interested in knowing the mafia's history and their Uprising I will strongly recommended it; is a great book. However if you are just a casual reader, like I was, and want to just know a little more about it then it may be the wrong book to start with.
HistoryGeek 42
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
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
Mar 12, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 29, 2016 Louis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Oct 26, 2016 Buzz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For anyone interested in the history of the American Mafia, especially the Five Families of New York, this book is for you. While not a definitive work, this book traces the history of the American Mafia and the Five Families from it's creation to the mid-2000's. While there are other books that may offer a more in-depth study into a particular individual or family, "Five Families" offers an overview for someone who is new to the subject and would like history without too much detail or minutiae ...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
Kevin Mccormack
Oct 04, 2016 Kevin Mccormack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I live in NY. In NY people follow the Mob like they follow the Yankees or the Giants (or the Mets and Jets - if you will) The book is a no nonsense history of the brutal and criminal history of the mafia. If you are interested in the Mob, you will enjoy this book
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