After realizing how long it’d taken me to finish Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I decided to see what else was on my bookshelf that I’d been reading in slow motion. Well, ten months ago, I picked up a copy of Selwyn Raab’s, Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires (2006), and I see that I am only half-way through its 785 pages.
It’s time to correct that.
Five Families is a history of organized crime – and the fight against it – in New York, beginning in the 1920s and running until about 2002. Raab, a journalist, does an admirable job in recounting the birth of organized crime, its impact on American culture, and the lengths to which law enforcement tried to bring about its end. The subject matter is engrossing; the writing style is not: Raab is a good writer, but he could have used a better editor. I find myself periodically – mentally – rewriting entire paragraphs, instead of focusing on who’s doing what. Not being a New Yorker (I haven’t even visited the Big Apple), I have no sense of place when Raab goes into detail about certain locations. But he does do a decent job of setting the feel of the era, at least in the portion of the book that I’ve read thus far. What’s weird for me is that I remember when many of the later events happened, so it is interesting to see the tale of what motivated an event – say, a killing – and how it was perceived by those of us Not-in-the Know.
As I said, I stopped at the half-way point, and at least topic-wise, that’s about the time a little known gent by the name of John Gotti appears. I read similar books when I was younger, but they dealt with specific individuals and their specific environs – Wiseguy (Nick Pileggi) comes to mind – so having a broader history (at least on this subject) is different. If anything, Five Families has got me thinking about finding a similar history of organized crime in Chicago – especially since I only recently finished AMC’s Making of the Mob: Chicago series. That, or something from Joseph Kanon – his historical thrillers (The Good German, which was infinitely better than the movie, by the way) are always a great read.
But one book at a time! Operation: Finish the Book has already seen the completion of one text; now it’s time for another. Five Families, here I come!