"Dr. Nelli . . . describes the kinds of crime that prevailed in Italian immigrant enclaves in America; like most American crime, then as now, Italian crime was one aspect of the so-called culture of urban poverty boys graduated from street gangs to criminal gangs. None of these gangs were very big until Prohibition brought the Great Leap Forward, to a level that Dr. Nelli calls 'entrepreneurial crime.' His fine account makes sense of many murderous incidents, differentiates among places, and sketches individuals and the talents (Torrio's brains, Capone's brutality) that enabled them to rise in the underworld." "New Yorker" "A definitive history of organized crime in America." "American Historical Review""
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(226mm x 151mm x 23mm)
University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
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US Kirkus Review »
An assiduously researched history of Italian-American immigrants who made careers in crime. Nelli (History, Univ. of Kentucky) is loath to throw the term "Mafia" around loosely. He argues that the Sicilian malta was an organization peculiar to the semi-feudal, latifunda areas of Southern Italy. In America, mafia was originally a scare-word, the focus of anti-Italian, nativist sentiments which erupted most spectacularly in New Orleans following the 1890 murder of a police chief. Until Prohibition immigrant gangs like the Black Hand extortionists preyed exclusively on their countrymen, notably in New York which had the densest concentrations of Italians. Syndicate crime, which blossomed during Prohibition, was in fact multiethnic (Jews and Irishmen played major roles). It was also entrepreneurial, dedicated to upward mobility and the American "success" ethic, and organized around the delivery of illicit or hard-to-obtain goods and services to the American consumer. Nelli has carefully checked into the backgrounds of the big crime "bosses," the volume of the "business" they conducted, and their operations in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, and other profitable cities. He scrupulously avoids sensationalism - to the point of being rather drab. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Humbert S. Nelli
Humbert S. Nelli is professor of history at the University of Kentucky.