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The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  764 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
The gripping true story of the origins of the mafia in America—and the brilliant Italian-born detective who gave his life to stop it

*Soon to be a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio*

Beginning in the summer of 1903, an insidious crime wave filled New York City, and then the entire country, with fear. The children of Italian immigrants were kidnapped, and dozens
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Community Reviews

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Detective Petrosino’s fight against criminal enterprise in New York

At the beginning of the 20th century, Italian immigrants were arriving in large numbers to New York City dreaming big in the new world, but faced hostility from other citizens like German and Irish immigrants. They were also terrorized, extorted, and murdered by a criminal organization known as the “Black Hand”, which was eventually traced to mafia gang operating from Sicily. Their main target were the Italian community in NY th
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Only read half of this book. Kept thinking it was going to get better and more compelling but it never did. Too bad because I liked the premise and wanted to learn more about Petrosino, but it was just too dull.
Brooke Nuzie
May 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
It’s probably not fair of me to review this because I didn’t finish it. I got about half way. I wanted to love it because its about such an interesting time in history, but I’m a character person and this was written like facts, not a story.

This is blasphemous... but I think the movie will be better 🙈
P.e. lolo
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing

First, let me say that this is a history book as well as a book about one man’s fight against “The Black Hand”. Over the years reading about the history of the Mafia I knew that when it first arrived in the U.S. it was called the Black Hand. I had also read just small little references about Joseph Petrosino who was a detective in the N.Y. Police. He was the first Italian at a time when the police and fire were owned by the Irish. This was a time when the migration from southern Italy and Sicily
Megan Richardson
Nov 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
The premise sounded interesting, but I just could not get into this book. It was not very well written and for a non-fiction book gave way too much credence to what might have happened or what the main character might have felt. If I wanted that, I'd read a novel.
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Would recommend reading over the Audiobook.
Aristae Henricus
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stephan Talty's "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian Mafia and the Italian detective who gave his life to try and stop it.

Known as "the Italian Sherlock Holmes", Joseph Petrosino was an Italian immigrant who grew up in America in a time when Italians were looked down on. "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian struggle in early America, the rise of "The Black Hand" and the heroic man that was so loyal to America and his fellow Italians, that he would stop at nothing to see the Mafi
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
The Black Hand
The Epic War between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History

by Stephen Talty

The Black Hand is the symbol of fear which spread across New York and Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. One single Italian, Joseph Petrosino, doggedly pursued the order of secret criminal society. They originally terrorized their own: other Italians. Eventually they became so powerful that they were feared across the country. Petrosino became famous for tracking the
Try to guess. Why. Again.

Yes. Always him.
Mike Billington
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There was a time when Joseph Petrosino was the most famous lawman in the United States.
There was a good reason for that. In the early years of the 20th Century The Black Hand - a loosely organized group of some of the most vicious gangs in the country - was committing horrific crimes on an epic scale. Petrosino was among the very few police officers willing to stand against them and he put literally hundreds of Black Hand members in jail.
His exploits against these criminals - who murdered men, w
William DuFour
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting book about a little known detective who with his grit, tenacity and innovation helped end the plague on immigrants by a vicious criminal/anarchist organization. This book should be read by every law enforcement person on how to defeat such organizations.
This book had the potential to be so much better. The story is interesting and one that I didn't know - and true crime/crime syndicate stories are usually favorites of mine. However, the book was, unfortunately, not well (or consistently) written. Rather than go deep into a few examples of the Black Hand crime and Petrosino , the author throws out a seemingly unending number of anecdotal stories. The surface level story telling makes it tough to be invested in the book, fully appreciate the Blac ...more
Samuel Tyler
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
History is a fascinating subject to study as there is so much of it, so why do we keep going back to the same places? I feel like I have walked the steps of Julius Caesar and married at least two of Henry XIII’s wives; so often I have read about them. There are countless other tales out there to learn about that may be more obscure, but are just as exciting. I don’t know much about New York around 1900, but after reading ‘‘The Black Hand’’ by Stephan Talty I now know it was a violent place to li ...more
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: organized-crime
A systematic study of the Black Hand is extraordinarily difficult. Talty orients his book towards the life of Joe Petrosino, one of America's most famous policemen. Although Talty clearly prefers a larger study of the Black Hand, the biographical under-story keeps the book organized and moving. Talty decorates his biography with some of the Black Hand's most heinous crimes, although the crimes he selects for his book may appear stand-offish to the rest of the book or creating a kaleidoscope of i ...more
Shawn Birss
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-nonfiction
There is a good story contained in this book. Unfortunately, it wavers between a steady narrative written in the style of a novel, which is when it is at its best, and a journalistic look at the history surrounding the rise of The Black Hand, the precursor to the Italian Mafia in New York.

Were it written more as the novelization I wish it were, this would be the story of Italian detective Joseph Petrosino, and his fight against rising organized crime even as he experiences and witnesses acts of
I am not a fan of all non-fiction,but this was a good one.It was not dry at all.I read what I can abt Italian immigrants to NYC in early 1900's since my ancestors came over at that time.I have read abt Petrosino before and he is quite a hero to the Italians and Sicilians of that time. He was the first ever Italian Police Officer. He was proud and determined and could not be "had". He worked his way up from a laborer cleaning streets to Det. in NYC Police Dept. In the end,the Black Hand did have ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Had high hopes for this one. It's billed as a "epic" but an epic it is not. Talty does a solid job of researching an interesting chapter in the annals of early organized crime, as well as the darker history of immigration in the early 1900s. The story, however, lack drive, and ultimately is dominated more by the exploits of the horrific criminal organization than the accomplishments of the Joseph Petrosino, the brilliant detective of the title.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good book - it does not glorify or romanticize this lowest element of Italian culture - the Mafia, Black Hand - or whatever you wish to call it. Both my parents were first generation Italian Americans, my Mom from upstate NY and my Dad from WA State. Both had very different experiences concerning the subject of this book but my Dad's family changed the spelling for their last name to distance themselves from the discrimination (which always confused me because my paternal Grandfather would blow ...more
Lele Capu
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
La Storia, è fatta di storie. Questa è una delle tante storie che può raccontare una particolare parentesi degli italiani immigrati in america tra la seconda metà dell'Ottocento fino agli anni 20-30 del Novecento.
Questo libro merita di essere romanzo storico, e non poliziesco come alcuni lo classificano.
Una storia di riscatto per un qualsiasi immigrato italiano, povero, che da lustrascarpe è diventato il miglior detective americano dei primi del Novecento è un grandissimo esempio di riscatto di
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joe Petrosino was the NYPD's first detective of Italian heritage. In the early years of the twentieth century he was chosen to lead a dedicated squad of officers to fight the rise of a loose-knit, secret, Mafia-like society of kidnappers and extortionists known, rather melodramatically as the Black Hand, after the symbol they left on their ransom notes. I thought this was a well-executed book about one of our country's more colorful lawmen, although it bogs down in several places when the author ...more
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Hollywood has spent nearly a century glorifying Organized Crime, specifically the Mafia. While I won't lie and say that I am not a fan of those films and TV programs (I am), I think it's criminal that more stories like those of Giuseppe Petrosino are not told with regularity. As opposed to the glorified Godfathers, the Black Hand was an utterly evil scourge preying on the poor, isolated Italians who had recently immigrated to New York in the early 20th Century. I was also amazed at how instituti ...more
Melissa Italiano
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
What I enjoyed about this book:
- Discovering the Black Hand society, it's crimes, tactics, sheer ruthlessness, and shocking follow-through
- Learning, through specific stories, about what life was like for Italian immigrants at this time in history
- Of course, the accounts of the brave and ceaseless Detective Joseph Petrosino

What I didn't enjoy:
- I think it's important to note that the bio for this book is false advertising (the descriptions say "gripping true story" "rich story" "fast-paced nar
Joanie Sompayrac
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I heard the author talk about this book on NPR and had to read it. It might actually be classified as historical fiction since so many of the conversations have re-created to tell the story of what actually happened when criminal Italian immigrants created terror in American cities in the early 20th century. More than telling the story of these criminals, however, it is also the story of a heroic Italian detective who worked tirelessly to stop them -- Joseph Petrosino. It is also a story of poli ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly well-written and well-researched, this book achieves what the greatest of all nonfiction narratives do: the reintroduction of a great hero to current audiences. That Joseph Petrosino has been forgotten is a crime itself, one that this book remediates. He was an incredible and brave man with the greatest of integrity. It makes me both proud and ashamed to be an American and a New Yorker. I’m thrilled that he and his story have been brought back into America’s consciousness where it rig ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the second book I've read by Stephan Talty, and I am impressed again.

Good background on the creation and rise of the Black Hand movement, as well as information on Joseph Petrosino. I would have liked more info about life for Adelina, her child, and the Petrosino family after Joe was murdered.

The most disturbing thing to read about is how inept individuals always seem to rise to the top of government positions, yet never get held accountable for the terrible things that happen because o
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Eh, I'm not sure there was quite enough detail about Petrosino here to justify the length. Might have been more interesting to me to delve a bit more into how the society fit into the longer course of history and what kind of impact it had going forward. Was alluded to a bit, but it felt like a pretty abrupt ending to me. I'd also have liked more information about Petrosino's family - seems like his descendants are still around, so I'm not sure why we didn't get more color from them. It all just ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book details the life and work of Joe Petrosino, the Italian-American cop who fought the Black Hand during the early 1900s when they terrorized New York City and other immigrant cities. It highlights a dark chapter in my culture's history. I'm still a bit confused as to whether this was a pre-cursor to the Mafia. Still, I found it an interesting read, especially as I am always interested in learning as much about my heritage as possible. If you are Italian-American, I think you might enjoy ...more
Bill Melville
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Talty finds a strong tale of a dogged Italian-American police detective, Joseph Petrosino, trying to break a secret society in the early 1900s while struggling against the hate and bigotry aimed at Italian immigrants, even from his other officers. The author drops us into the New York City of Theodore Roosevelt and goes in-depth with underworld operations made the city an uneasy place.

Important note: If you don't want to ruin the whole story, do NOT look at the picture pages midway through - it
Flora Brophy
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting history of the Black Hand in NYC specifically (and America in general) as the peak period of immigration from southern Italy came in larger and larger waves in the early 1900's. This is the story of the NYC detective, Joseph Petrosino, who lead an all-Italian squad to combat the Black Hand, and the political chicanery which hindered the overall effectiveness of their efforts. Not as well-written as I had hoped...rather a historical collection of anecdotal incidents. Regardless, a dar ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
really an outstanding book that is as much a biography of petrosino as it is an account of the precursor of the Mafia the black hand Society. They were some right bastards they were but there is also a little bit of a cliffhanger waiting to find out what happened to them and the book reads almost like a novel. very well done. I got curious to find out if there is any memorabilia still around about petrosino and there really isn't but I did discover that there is going to be or it seems like ther ...more
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Retro Chapter Chi...: The Black Hand (2018) 3 9 Apr 23, 2018 07:14PM  
Stephan Talty is the New York Times bestselling author of six acclaimed books of narrative nonfiction, as well as the Abbie Kearney crime novels. Originally from Buffalo, he now lives outside New York City.

Talty began as a widely-published journalist who has contributed to the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Men’s Journal, Time Out New York, Details, and many other publications. He is the author of t
More about Stephan Talty

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“The writer H. P. Lovecraft would later provide an example of the animosity Americans felt toward the newcomers in a letter to a friend in which he described immigrants from Italy crowded into the Lower East Side as creatures who “could not by any stretch of the imagination be call’d human.” Instead, “they were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid and amoebal; vaguely moulded from some stinking viscous slime of earth’s corruption, and slithering and oozing in and on the filthy streets or in and out of doorways in a fashion suggestive of nothing but infesting worms or deep-sea unnamabilities.” 0 likes
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