La Cosa Nostra: A History Of The Sicilian Mafia, by John Dickie
This particular book is a history of the mafia and its parasitic relationship with the Italian state that was constructed from the 1860’s onward, demonstrating that far from an ancient phenomenon, the mafia is in fact relatively new, having been noticed (but not treated seriously by most Italian rulers) shortly after it began, and demonstrating the conditions of profit and power that led the mafia to form both in Italy and later in the United States. As someone who does not read very much about the history of the criminal class, I found this a deeply interesting book and I think it is a subject I will read about more, given its general interest for those who are interested in the history of corruption and the relationship of politics and society as a whole. On a general level, this book is an example of the limits of being able to hide a conspiracy, and how the best way to hide something from those who matter is to co-opt them or tie them in some fashion to the secret society that one wishes to make, even if one’s actions cannot be entirely hidden.
This volume is about 350 pages and it contains a history of the mafia from its founding to the early 2000’s or so. The author begins with the origins of the mafia in Sicily’s citrus industry in the mid 1800’s (1) and how it got its name. After that the author discusses the ways the mafia entered Italy’s political system (2) in the last quarter of the 19th century and how its influence corrupted Italian politics at the highest level from that point onward (3). There is a discussion of the relationship between socialism and fascism and the mafia, which opposed both movements in general (4), as well as a look at the way the mafia established itself in America (5) and was reborn by the American victory over fascism (6). This leads to a discussion about the mafia interest in construction and drug trafficking in the postwar period (7) as well as the first (8) and second (9) mafia wars and their consequences. The author then concludes the book with a discussion of the efforts by Italy’s virtuous minority to curb the mafia, despite the high death toll that resulted from these efforts (8) and the bombing in the 1990’s and early 2000’s that led the mafia to go under at least temporarily in the face of social outrage (9), after which the book concludes with acknowledgements, a bibliography and notes on sources, and an index.
The author has clearly gone to a great deal of effort in order to uncover forgotten and neglected research that demonstrates the way that the mafia was known from the very beginning by those around it, some of whom were brave opponents of the mafia and its system of violence and oppression. The author maintains a grim sense of humor, discussing the counterproductive attempts of the mafia to influence politics through violence and the way that just as the mafia is a parasitic element of Italian (and American) society, so too is the Corleone leadership, which maintains power through its interests in Palermo, parasitic on the mafia itself. What is most surprising in reading a book like this is the fact that there have been so few histories of the mafia and that it took so long for people to think that the mafia was a worthy subject of historical discussion despite its obvious importance to Sicilian and Italian-American aspects of history and contemporary culture. This book will likely encourage a great many more people to read and perhaps even write about the mafia themselves.