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When it comes to organized crime, no one does it quite like the mafia.
They aren't your typical street gangsters throwing up signs and making fools of themselves. They don't flag up or sell drugs on a street corner. They do things with style.
They know how to wheedle their ways into business, how to make the most of their connections, and when to use force. More impressively, they do it all while wearing designer suits and driving fancy cars.
Needless to say, there's a pretty good amount of people who are fascinated by the mob—and go so far as to write books about the mafia. Though there is "no such thing" as the mafia, these books will definitely give you a great read.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
This might not be a true crime book, but we absolutely have to include it on any list of the greatest books about the mafia ever written. The Godfather brought one of the most popular fictional gangsters to life: Don Corleone.
If you loved the movie, you're going to enjoy the intricate detail that the book brings out in this crime family's inner workings. It's tense, realistic, and actually based on research derived from real mafia families.
Mario Puzo, you wrote a damn good book.
Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard K. O’Neill
Whitey Bulger was one of the most ruthless mobsters in Boston, and was known for his prominent role in the Italian mafia. What most people didn't know about Whitey was that his entire criminal career kicked off when he made a really foul deal with a childhood friend.
This book has become famous for being one of the most comprehensive books on a Boston gangster ever written, and rightfully so. Dick Lehr and his writing partner managed to turn Whitey's story into a true novel.
Black Mass shows how a rising star in the FBI made the grave mistake of giving Whitey protection in exchange for putting the Italian mob behind bars. Unfortunately, no one warned the FBI that Whitey was a threat too.
You can find out how Whitey Bulger took over Boston's drug trade through this book's pages—and you'll soon realize how crafty mobsters can really be.
Casino by Nicholas Pileggi
If you haven't guessed, a lot of books about the mafia were later turned into blockbuster Hollywood movies due to their high stakes drama. Casino is not an exception to this rule; it was picked up by Martin Scorsese.
As we all know, the mafia was instrumental in creating the casinos that line the boulevards in Las Vegas. One of the most respected gangsters of yesteryear was Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.
Rosenthal, along with his crime partner Anthony Spilotro, ran Vegas. All went well until Lefty became obsessed with power and Anthony became obsessed with Lefty's wife. Casino chronicles how it all fell apart, leaving no dramatic stone unturned.
Five Families by Selwyn Raab
In the world of the mob, you have to belong to a specific crime family in order to play the game. Five Families takes a look at the five biggest mafia families in America: the Columbos, the Bonnanos, the Gambinos, the Lucheses, and the Genoveses.
For decades, they have outsmarted the police. During the earlier part of the century, they reigned supreme through the five boroughs. This is one of the few books about the mafia to look at each family in detail, trace their activities, and show how they have evolved.
Each iteration is fascinating, and shows how human nature plays into mob life. You are guaranteed to love it, despite the fall of an empire that resulted from their differences.
Low Life by Luc Sante
Typical books about the mafia will talk about the "golden age" of organized crime—the days where Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone lived. What people don't realize is that mafia life extends way before those days—back to the Gilded Age of American history.
Luc Sante's Low Life takes a look at the "mob before the mob," from the 1840s to the 1910s. You'll learn about the ways that street gangs ran, who the big players were, and which mobsters were the ones to recruit the more recognizable names we associate with organized crime today.
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
Tired of books about the mafia's activity in the United States? I don't blame you. There's only so many times that you can read about New York City's gang life before your eyes glaze over. That's what makes Peter Robb's take on mafia history so fascinating.
Midnight in Sicily traces American mob culture back to the island of Sicily, telling its tale with stunning imagery and prose. This book is not just about the Sicilian mob; it's about a side of Italy that remains a serious part of the culture.
If you want to know all the old mafia hotspots and learn about their past, Midnight in Sicily will act as an amazing travel companion.
Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie
The Sicilian mafia is the group that most people think about when they hear the term "mobster," and rightfully so. They wreaked havoc on neighborhoods, became a powerful crime syndicate, and made many career criminals famous.
Cosa Nostra is currently one of the most complete books about the Sicilian mafia on the market, and it's incredibly well-written. John Dickie was able to bring their stories to life in amazing ways, and also shows why many mobsters in the United States still shy away from what they do in Sicily.
This book is not for the faint of heart. If you don't like to hear about wild crime sprees, murder, and mayhem, you might want to pick up a gentler title.
The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia by Frank DiMatteo
Frank DiMatteo is a guy who has done something few ever do, and fewer ever survive doing. He broke the oath of omerta, which decrees that those who are part of the mob will stay silent about their doings.
You see, Frank DiMatteo actually grew up in New York City—and actively held his place in the mafia. The President Street Boys is his story about life as a boy being raised to be a mobster, what made him leave the life, and how he managed to finally get out, despite the myth about the mafia you probably believe dictating that there is no way out.
At times, this book is unsettling. Other times, it's humorous. No matter what part you're reading, it'll remain a tour-de-force.
Paddy Whacked by T.J. English
Italians seem to get the lion's share of attention, especially when it comes to all the hit books about the mafia. It almost feels like people forget about the dealings of the Irish mafia, doesn't it?
Well, T.J. English's book is a good reminder of the insanity that came with the Irish mob. Paddy Whacked highlights the lives and dealings of major gangsters like King Mike MacDonald and the Chicagoan godfather Big Bill Dwyer.
Irish American gangsters were seriously badass.
Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafia Empire by Douglas Century
One of the more telling trends you'll notice while reading books about the mafia is how few actually talk about modern mafioso dealings. Part of the reason for this is probably due to people keeping up the vow of omerta.
The other part of why you don't hear about what life in the mafia is like is because the mafia really doesn't have the same amount of power they once had. Takedown explains how one major arrest ended the age where mafia-related crimes reigned supreme.
It's a drama-filled thriller based on events that actually happened, right here in the United States.