The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia

Mike Dash, Author . Random $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6722-0

Decades before the Five Families emerged and more than half a century before Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather , Giuseppe Morello and his family controlled all manner of crime in New York City. Bestselling historian Dash (Satan's Circus ; Tulipomania ) presents an enthralling account of this little-known “boss of bosses,” dubbed “the Clutch Hand” because of his deformed arm. Arriving with his family from Corleone, Sicily, in 1892, Morello soon set up a successful operation counterfeiting American and Canadian bills. His empire expanded to include extorting local businesses, insurance scams and kidnappings. The Mafia—a term that Dash underscores was used by outsiders, not members—was in its infancy when Morello came to America, but by the time he was gunned down in 1930, families had cropped up in all five boroughs and in cities across the country. Dash depicts the balance between loyalty and betrayal as an ever-changing dance and nimbly catalogues the endless gruesome murders committed in the name of revenge and honor. Readers may think they know the mob, but Morello's ruthless rule makes even the fictional Tony Soprano look tame. Maps. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 05/25/2009
Release date: 08/01/2009
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