History of the Mafia by Salvatore Lupo

Seeing that the Italian Mafia has been generating headlines again, this may be a good opportunity to let our readers know about a new book by Columbia University Press: History of the Mafia by Salvatore Lupo. The book was first published in Italian in 1996 and has now been translated into English by Donzelli Editore. Even though I find the book a tad too ‘academic’ at times, it is really useful in understanding just how the Mafia operates, where it comes from and how it continually adapts itself to new circumstances. It soon becomes clear that you cannot understand the whole Mafia phenomenon without a proper understanding of Italian history. And, as Lupo adequately explains, you can forget about the myths that both Hollywood and the Mafia itself are tyring to uphold; there is no ‘good Mafia’:

“Valachi, Gentile, Bonanno, Buscetta, and Calderone all portrayed themselves and their friends as wise men who applied the rules, who sought to mediate conflict, and who avoided illegal violence, turning to bloodshed only as a last resort, in order to apply the rational and carefully weighed deliberations of the organization. At the same time, they depicted their enemies as treacherous individuals, unwilling to respect the laws of (their own) society, always ready to engage in betrayal, killing at the drop of a hat, and verging on the brink of sadism and insanity. We can believe that the self-portrayal of the pentiti is a sincere one, yet if their adversaries were to speak, they might well tell the story from a diametrically opposed point of view. (…) In reality, such internal conflict – such as the contrast between the old Mafia and the new Mafia – is an integral part of the Mafia’s ideology. It is an expression of a mediocre and obscurantic vision of the world.”

I haven’t read the entire book yet, so I’ll just refer you to the book’s pages at Columbia University Press for more quotes and information.