cover image History of the Mafia

History of the Mafia

Salvatore Lupo, , trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar. . Columbia Univ., $32.95 (328pp) ISBN 978-0-231-13134-6

A dark thread of crime and corruption weaves insidiously through the fabric of Sicilian society in this intricate historical study. Historian Lupo focuses on the Italian branch of the Mafia, following it from its roots in Italy’s 19th-century wars of unification to the anti-Mafia maxi-trial of the 1980s and 1990s, and tracing its infiltration of citrus-growing, construction and other sectors of the economy. He rejects the idea of the organization as a holdover from a traditional Sicilian peasant culture with a socially benign ethos of solidarity and honor as a self-serving Mafia mythology. Instead, he argues, mafiosi run a thoroughly modern, prosaic, protection racket, fomenting crime and then posing as intermediaries who can suppress it, seeking protection and wielding influence in the highest economic and political circles, eager to abrogate omertá and cooperate with the police when it suits their interests. Lupo’s rather dense academic treatment of the subject presupposes a good knowledge of Sicilian history as it proceeds through highly detailed but too loosely organized accounts of specific mafioso life histories, police initiatives and major trials, in which one often loses sight of the forest amid the trees. There are stimulating insights, but the book is almost as byzantine as the Mafia intrigues it appraises. (Aug.)