Thursday, 2 June 2016

Book Review - Underboss by Peter Maas

Underboss : Sammy the Bull Gravano's story of life in the mafia by Peter Maas

New York: Harper Collins, 1997                                ISBN 0060182563

It took most of a lifetime for Sam Gravano to work out what most of us learn more quickly - that criminals are not to be trusted, are not nice people, and that greed is usually their downfall. In this fascinating account - based on many hours of taped conversations with Gravano - Peter Maas shows us how the Gambino crime family operated in New York during the 1970s through to the early 1990s.

In many ways Gravano's early life was that of an archetypal gangster: growing up on the mean streets of Bensonhurst, the dyslexic Gravano did not do well at school and after a short time in the army took up with a street gang.

While Gravano is the first to say he wasn't an educated man, he was not stupid, and soon realised that if he wanted to ever become more than a street punk he needed to ally himself with the local Cosa Nostra crew.

The book is a simple re-telling of his adventures in crime, including the murders, betrayals, stand-over tactics, scheming and all that goes with being a made man in the mafia.

A good portion of the book is taken up with Gravano's dealings with Paul Castellano and John Gotti. Gravano was involved in the murder of Castellano, and eventually turned states witness against Gotti.

Gravano saw himself as an old school mafioso, avoiding publicity, and living a relatively modest life. He grew increasingly disgusted with Castellano's distance from the on-the-ground workings of his crew, and at Gotti's public displays of wealth.

Maas does a good job of making sense of all the ins and outs of the alliances and enmities between and within families, which makes this book an easy read.

There is much in here that is not surprising - the lack of self-awareness and empathy of these gangsters for example. What is more interesting are the descriptions of how Gravano and his crew went about planning operations, and how the byzantine workings of Cosa Nostra played out on a day-to-day basis.

If you have an interest in organized crime and its history, this book is well worth reading.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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