Thursday, August 27, 2009

The First Mafia Family

He came to New York City in 1892 from Corleone, the town in western Sicily whose name Mario Puzo borrowed to create literature's most famous Mafioso.

A half-century before The Godfather, he was the face of organized crime in America
That's the takeaway from The First Family, Mike Dash's highly researched and smoothly written book on the origins of the Mafia in the United States
Focusing primarily on New York City and using an infamous mob hit - the 1903 Barrel Murder - as the jumping-off point, the book, on one level, is a police procedural set against the backdrop of the Italian immigrant experience.

Dash's straightforward account - he accurately describes it as a "narrative history" - provides context for the birth of an American underworld institution, but he in no way glamorizes the gangsters who dominate his story. Morello, shrewd, ruthless and calculating, emerges as the prototype of the ethnic crime boss, the sine qua non of New World Mafiosi.

Known as "Clutch" or "The Clutch Hand" because he had been born with a deformed right arm, Morello was, in the words of one inve stigator, "conscientiously and zealously bad," an individual who "enjoyed" being a criminal Read More