The Sicilian mafia is far from being Italy's most powerful and dangerous criminal fraternity. The south of the country hosts two other major mafias: the Camorra from Naples and its hinterland, and the 'Ndrangheta, the mafia of Calabria. In this book John Dickie studies Italy's less well known - but equally dark - brotherhoods of crime.
-Sobre delitos, organizaciones, costumbres e idiosincrasias.-
Lo que nos cuenta. El libro Historia de la mafia (publicación original: Blood Brotherhoods, 2011, y Mafia Republic, 2013), con el subtítulo Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta y Camorra de 1860 al presente, es un acercamiento de poco más de un siglo del devenir de la mafia siciliana, la mafia calabresa y la mafia napolitana, sus formas de actuación y su influencia en el desarrollo de la propia Italia en diferentes niveles.
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An absorbing although at times depressing history of the three notorious criminal "brotherhoods" that emerged from Southern Italy in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, depressing because the book outlines the extent to which these organisations infiltrated the administration of the Italian state and all too frequently made themselves immune to justice.
The book covers the period from about 1850 to 1944 and is concerned only with Italy. The author explains that the history of the Mafia in the U.S. is too big a subject for this book. Of the 3 organisations, it was the Neapolitan Camorra that emerged first, but few readers will be surprised that the author regards the Sicilian Mafia as the most successful in co-opting elements of the State to "co-manage" crime. Despite this, he is clear that the Mafia never fully took over the State, and that there have always been elements of the Italian state that fought the Mafia.
Occasionally it is still possible to see sentimental nonsense about the Mafia that suggests its origins lay in a form of "cavalleria rusticana" and that the Mafia, Camorra, and 'Ndrangheta defended ordinary people against a corrupt state. The author outlines in this book just how far the reality differed from that view, and how the "Honoured Societies" actually lived as parasites off the ordinary peasants and tradesmen of Southern Italy, consuming their produce and keeping them in abject poverty.
If I have any criticism it is that the period up to WWI is covered more comprehensively than the inter war years, and also that I am still not clear why the 3 organisations all arose in Southern Italy as opposed to anywhere else. The author dismisses old fashioned theories that the brotherhoods arose out of the "primitive" culture of the area or the "hot blooded" nature of the people, and of course he is right to do so. He explains that the brotherhoods originated in 19th century penal colonies, but I doubt that the penal colonies of southern Italy were significantly different from those elsewhere in Europe at the time.
The author has produced a follow-up book "Mafia Republic" bringing the story up to the modern era. I'll be adding that to my list.
"Blood Brotherhoods" by John Dickie promises a "a riveting narrative both disturbing and disturbingly relevant to the present" but I fear that he missed his mark. "Brotherhoods" was a long, tedious read, chock full of content but nothing especially riveting. In fact I would say on the contrary, as I fell asleep multiple times through this one before I buckled down and finished this tome off in a three day binge that I instantly regretted. To be fair, the book was thorough, well researched, and extensive. Unfortunately it didn't do too much for me in terms of readability, and that's why I have to dock it.
If you want a dry, deep scholarly dive into the history of the Mafia, John Dickie's "Blood Brotherhoods" is your book.
My grandfather immigrated from Calabria to NYC in 1905 and proceeded to grow into a family of 15. My father was the youngest of 13 siblings living off Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. I know of only two of my uncles that were 'men of honor', one died of bullet wounds the other spent time in jail, and died a natural death at home.
20 years ago my wife and I took 5 years to get dual citizenship...lots of documents with fancy stamps. And had help from my family in our home town of Anoia up in the mountains. For the last 15 years we have an apartment in Tuscany and spend about 6 months each year in Italy.
This is the ONLY book I've found that comprehensively and completely tells the histories and stories... and weaves it all into a narrative that is compelling and scary...and leaves the reader uplifted and with hope for Italy's continued political, legal, and social situations...
The actual read is about 640 pages...with indexes and references it's like 800. So don't go into it lightly.
Overlong and not entertaining enough to qualify as pop history or literature. It’s thorough. What can ya do it’s a history book. No more pizzo. Hope Italy and the world is someday free of this scourge. Vile criminals that leech off ordinary lives
Maybe a little too ambitious in its effort to tackle so much research in one work; on the other end the book tries out a systematic comparative analyses of organized crime in the 'Bel Paese'. Admittedly Cosa Nostra A History of the Sicilian Mafia was a more thorough work. But, yet, I am looking forward to the second installment; 'Mafia Republic'.
John Dickie has achieved a real undertaking. Retracing the history of the 3 greatest and oldest criminal organizations in Italy: the Camorra (Campania), the Cosa Nostra (Sicily) and the ´Ndrangheta (Calabria). He explains their commonalities and their point of differences and shows how each have learned from one another over time.
Their success has inspired and served as a model for all the modern criminal organizations in the rest of the world, whether in Russian, Asia or Latin America, without even mentioning their direct connection with the mafias in North America.
The research done by the author is impressive, especially on a subject which is so difficult to approach: the criminal world is the "underworld" as the author sometimes calls it. The many trial cases in the past twenty years have served as material to better understand these organizations but not only. The author has done extensive research in all the trials of the past 160 years, national and local newspapers writings about criminal events, movies, theatre plays, etc.
This gives the author the ability to place the reader in Italy's historical, economical, political and legal context. This is what I found the most interesting about the book. Rather than analyzing his subject as an isolated phenomenon, the author puts it in a dynamic perspective, showing that the history of these three criminal organizations is also closely linked to Italy's 160 year-old history: it's birth as a nation, the political regime changes (monarchy, fascism, first and second republics), the industrial revolution, the massive emigrations, especially towards North America, the post-war economic development and being one of the founding members of the European Union, the challenges fighting political terrorism (fascists and red brigades), and finally the (recent) war against the mafias.
I really enjoyed this book. Even if it's pretty dense, I just couldn't put it down.
John Dickie has written a dense history of organized crime in Italy, from its beginnings in the mid 19th century to its current form in the early 21st century. The detail is both its strength and it's weakness: Dickie simply throws everything in, the important and the trivial, with the result that the book often meanders; a careful edit would likely have pruned it by 25%. It also suffers from over reliance on the author's stylistic tics, which are repeated often enough to be annoying. But editorial weaknesses aside, this is still an excellent in-depth history of Italian organized crime, a history that, as Dickie makes clear, is intimately tied to the last two centuries of Italian history and, since the end of World War II, the rule of the Christian Democrats. Dickie also demonstrates how, like cancer, the mafias have managed to adapt to and subvert the various attempts to curb their lethal influence. This is a flawed book as a piece of writing, but a vital history despite its weaknesses.
Blood Brotherhoods chronicles Italian government's futile attempt's to fight the country's criminal organizations. The failure has been constant, although there has been some wins also. This book covers only the years until WW2, but by watching how Italy has done with the corona crisis just now, the ineffectiveness seems to be the same, just as the reasons: denial from the government officials, indifference by the people - until its too late - and a tendency to blame it all to those who try to do something about it. Although the mafias have done a great job in adapting to different circumstances, there also seems to be something in the national character of that ables this kind of thing to go on and on. Mistrust to government, for sure, but maybe also a need to rather focus on the nice surface, than take a look at the vermins that lurk underneath it.
More than just an immmersion in the early history of Italy's mafias this is also a deep dive into that country's history from the poverty of the mid 19th century to the Risorgimento, the challenges of a terribly divided new state to fascism's final convulsions. Dickie deftly weaves together the stories of how each of the three organised crime networks - Cosa Nostra, Camorra, 'Ndrangheta - originated, flourished or floundered, citing newly unearthed documents and fresh research.
Blood Brotherhoods may not read like the Hollywood blockbuster some seek but it is full of characters, evocative landscapes, and a thorough understanding of the subject matter.
And now I move onto John Dickie's accompanying volume, Mafia Republic, exploring Italy's criminal curse from 1946 to the present.
This is a very informative account of the Mafia in Italy, but with the warning that it does move slowly and often becomes tedious in repetition. Dickie focuses strongly on the District Attorney throughout, as well as lingering on single characters at the expense of the larger picture.
However, it does provide the details of origin and helps make sense of what we came to understand as the Mafia and its operations in the United States during the 20th century. Although Dickie doesn't get into the U.S. connection per se, he does lead us to see how it came to grow and expand especially during Prohibition.
Blood Brotherhoods recounts the history of the three Italian mafias--the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, the Camorra based in Naples and the 'ndrangheta, the crime family from the toe of the Italian boot. The author has obviously done a tremendous amount of research in preparing this book but that is not necessarily a plus. Comprehensive but not particularly inspired writing; it reads a bit like a monograph or a PhD thesis. The litany of mafia dons, Calabrian chiefs, murders, and the travails of the Italian police who hunted the gangsters of organized crime from the 1860s to the late 20th century becomes numbing after a while.
Comprehensive, authoritative and detailed history of Italy's three mafias: the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Camorra from Naples, and the mysterious 'ndranghetta from Calabria (the toe of the boot) spanning their ancient beginnings into the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The author does a good job of explaining the varied responses of Italy's criminal justice systems through the years. We also get a good sense of how and why the Italians have tolerated and worked with the mafias and why Italy now has the backbone and the legal structure needed to combat them.
Popular American culture tends to romanticize the mafia and portray it as something almost cool. Books like this show just how harmful the mafia has been to Sicilians and other Italians and I think that is very important. Despite the imposing number of pages, I found myself very immersed in the writing.
Very informative and an interesting read. Concentrates on the period between the formation in the mid 1800s and the end of WW2 so if your interest is in the Mafia in more modern times there are probably better books around.
As any reader of my blog may have surmised, Italian organized crime is a reading interest of mine. I've reviewed both Midnight in Sicily and Mafia Republic in the last couple of years; the latter work also by Dickie, covering the history of organized crime in Italy since World War Two. Mafia brotherhoods is Dickie's history of the three main criminal societies from their birth up until the War. It is a highly engaging book, packed with incident and characters, based on sound scholarship.
Dickie explains that of the three societies he deals with, it was the Neapolitan Camorra which appeared first, in the prison network - the prisoners ran the jails, and the Camorra controlled where you slept, what you ate and wore, all for an appropriate fee. Dickie explains that the upheavals that occurred during the Risorgimento that allowed the Camorra and Cosa Nostra to enmesh themselves in the outside world. All three societies major crime was that of running protection rackets, with the Camorra also engaging in pimping.
It was Cosa Nostra in Sicily who were the first to realise the importance of entwining themselves with the forces of government for their own protection, and had a better idea of when to keep their heads down. In Naples, the different structure of the Camorra led to it being more exposed to law and order activities. Meanwhile, back in Calabria, the 'ndrangheta learnt a thing or two from jail time spent with other mafiosi, and set up a society that in some ways was more rigid than the other two.
Dickie builds his narrative around stories of law enforcement and trial transcripts, which lead the reader to ask themselves two questions. The first is why it has taken Italy so long to come to grips with these criminals when right from the earliest times the powers of law gathered enough information to know a lot about these groups: how they were structured, the crimes they committed, even on occasions their member's identities. It is clear from Dickie's history that the various mafia societies pulled in their favours, and at times lay low for a time, as they knew the body politic would soon move on. They also assiduously fostered the myths about the mafia; that it was a way of looking at life rather than an organized criminal syndicate, or that it was a product of prejudiced Northern Italian imaginations.
What is harder to grasp is why the state so quickly forgot what it found out, often at great cost. Did they just not see it as important, or could they not bear to face the truth of the cancer at the heart of their state? Or was it something more insidious?
As the citizen of a country that has a fine tradition of British law, I found Dickie's reference to trials interesting. Obviously Italy's legal system is different, but Dickie's continued reference to historians happening on trial transcripts, or of them being non-existant, seems odd, and disturbing. These trials all occurred less than 150 years ago, and many of them after World War One. It seems amazing that there is no index of cases or some other device for the judiciary to see what's gone on before. So, rather then building a body of knowledge about the mafia, the legal system started from scratch each time - Dickie describes the depressing detail that the diagram of the mafia that was proudly shown to the world in 1992 during the trial initiated by Tomaso Buscetta's confession was identical to a diagram included in a 1938 report prepared by the Fascist government. The continual change of governments after World War Two did not help in the task of keeping pressure to bear on these groups. As Dickie points out, while crime-fighting was a tactic of various governments, mafia societies have a long term strategy, which put them in a position to defeat whatever cane against them.
It seems that the glory years of the mafia finally may have passed, with the Italian and other governments finally taking a long-term view of the problem, and disrupting these societies more regularly and more successfully in recent years. Taken together, Dickie's books (which also include Cosa Nostra), provide the reader with a comprehensive history of the mafia in Italy.
I found the book very informative and certainly a lot of research has gone into it. The style of writing I found a little "dry", I'm not sure I can put my finger on it, but at times it seemed a little naive...
But there is one thing that made a great impression on me from the start. Reading about the Mafia brotherhoods and essentially the way a large part of Italian society "works" I was reminded very much of Greece, where I live. Only here we don't have (as far as I know) organised crime rings affiliated with the politicians. Here the organised crime rings ARE the polticians and the parties themselves...
Unification of Italy, prison economies and power structures explode out into Naples; the mountain communities of Calabria birth the 'ndrangheta, the lemon groves and noble grounds of Palermo solidify the Mafia; three secret societies, very structured, absolutely a systematic conspiracy. despite this, continous failures to combat and recognize them as such; ill-willed and ignorant obfuscation as a southern state of mind; up to 1943, when the Americans come and with their massive stores give birth to a new Camorra. Must read. Must read the sequel!
I learned something I certainly didn't know before--that there were 3 Italian Mafias. Dickie does a good job describing their rise and (for some of them) their falls. He explains what made them so powerful and difficult to uproot. He shows the connection between fascism and the Mafia. He also shows the cultural differences between them.
The version I have is a collection of two books: Mafia Brotherhoods and Mafia Republic. The 2014 version of this book apparently is a conflation of them both for America, as opposed to the smaller British version that's all I can find on Goodreads thus far.
Well researched and informative. It took me a while to get into it, and at some points throughout reading I got frustrated with myself for not remembering everything that I had read in the earlier parts of the book. I’m glad I read the book and am keen to read some of Mr. Dickie’s other works.