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4.7 out of 5 stars22
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 1 November 2011
You might call it a history book that reads like a novel. Superbly researched and superbly written. I imagine it would be technically hard for Dickie to write three separate narratives (mafia, camorra, `ndrangheta) at once, but he manages to weave them together deftly, identifying similarities and explaining differences. I also like the way he sets the particular stories against the wider scenario of evolving modern Italian history and culture, a subject of which he obviously has a firm grasp. I can't wait for Dickie's next foray into this territory. Very highly recommended.
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on 15 April 2013
This is the second John Dickie book I've read, the previous being Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. Dickie's books are very well researched and detailed, but he has a real flair for explaining in common sense terms which make it easy to understand.
I especially like the way he reminds the reader of characters. For example a Mafia member he mentions in early chapters is also referenced in later ones - and if the many Italian names can be hard to remember he also gives little 'markers' to remind use (usually highlighting a distinguishing physical feature or violent trait).
John Dickie is Professor of Italian Studies at University College London and an internationally recognised expert on many aspects of Italian history. His ability to explain the counttry's rich and violent history makes for pleasurable reading. I will continue to read his works.
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VINE VOICEon 9 July 2013
John Dickie's book on the Italian "Honoured Societies" establishes at the outset the political nature of the 'brotherhoods'. Not only have they insinuated themselves into the legal institutions of government their behaviour is a form of politics of which Machiavelli would have been proud. Although Dickie confines himself to the period 1851 to 1943 it is evident that criminal brotherhoods existed throughout the fabric of Italian society long before Italy itself became independent. Dickie's main focus is on three groups, the Neapolitan Camorra, the Sicilian mafia and the Calabrian 'ndrangheta, all of which are rooted in the economically under-developed southern part of Italy. It is a description of the failure 'to see, understand and remember just how dangerous these criminal fraternities were'. They were, in practice, an illegal government gaining and exercising power through intimidation using the dual codes of omerta and vendetta. They flourished thanks to government and legal corruption.

The origins of the Camorra are unknown and Dickie makes the point that this has enabled the society to mythologise its beginnings to provide bogus legitimacy for its activities. The Camorra appears to have developed from its stranglehold on the running of Neapolitan prisons. Unlike its Sicilian counterpart it consisted of independent clans acting on their own initiative. These clans became adept at subordinating the judiciary, police, public servants and politicians in return for political support. Gladstone noted the power of the Camorra when he visited Naples in 1851. Although the Camorra used religious or masonic symbolism in their rituals their outlook was decidedly secular. Their concept of 'honour' was that of political advantage and the protection of perceived reputations, their motive was that of money-making at any cost. They prospered by 'co-managing' crime with the prison warders, the police and the relevant government agencies.

As a secular society they were utilised by Italian liberals in the campaign against the King. They provided electoral support in exchange for political benefits. The liberal Committee of Order enlisted the Camorra to replace the police and provided them with regular funds to maintain control of the poor. The result was chaos. Silvio Spaventa was appointed to clear up the mess and quickly purged the police and prisons of camorristi. One Swiss observer noted 'every samorrista that was arrested could call on influential protectors who issued certificates of good conduct for him. The moment a member of the sect was led to the Vicaria prison, the Chief of Police was sure to receive twenty letters defending the 'poor man'; the letters were all signed by respectable people'. Ironically Spaventa resigned when it emerged that a police killer was a member of his personal bodyguard and it appeared he too was guilty of 'co-managing' crime with criminals. Italian corruption was not only historical it was endemic.

Sicily was notorious for its lawlessness. 'Alongside the cops were private armies, groups of bandits, armed bands of fathers and sons, local political factions, cattle rustlers: all of them murdered, stole, extorted and twisted the law in their own interests'. The breakdown of feudalism made it easier to become a man of means 'as long as you were good with a gun and could buy good friends in the law and politics'. Irrespective of the political complexion of the government in power 'no government could control Sicily without going through mafiosi'. Ermanno Sangiorgi was a policeman who openly fought the mafia and provided evidence that they had framed one of their rivals for a murder. He was transferred following a change of government and the case he had presented was dismissed by the presiding judge who accused him of acting corruptly on behalf of the alleged murderer's family. Thus by the 1860's the Mafia was firmly enmeshed in Sicilian politics, including the magistrature, as a means of promoting its own nefarious interests. 'Enlightened' scientists developed phrenology to explain criminal behaviour omitting the old-fashioned notion that human beings frequently exploited their fellow men and women.

Dickie introduces his study with the story of the murder of six young Italian men in the German steel town of Druisberg. It proved to be the latest chapter of a long-running blood feud between different clans within the 'ndrangheta, a criminal group which had emerged in the later years of the nineteenth century in Calabria, Italy's poorest region, whose criminals have become the country's richest and most powerful gangsters, thriving on the importation of cocaine from South America into Europe. According to Dickie, 'The Calabrians have the strongest regime of omerta - of silence and secrecy. Very few informants ever abandon the organisation's ranks and give evidence to the state'. Although they intimidated the police, arrests in the 1890's brought evidence of the 'ndrangheta's rituals and organisational structure.

When Mussolini came to power in post-war Italy the mafia repeated their practice of supporting the ruling party. Having declared himself dictator Mussolini set out to build Italy as one united nation and declared war on the mafia in a campaign known as the Mori Operation. Thousands of mafiosi were captured, murders fell from 675 in 1923 to 299 in 1926 while over the same period episodes of cattle rustling from 696 to 126. Confident that victory had been achieved hundreds of mafiosi convicted during the Mori Operation were released in an amnesty in 1932. During the 1930's they continued their criminal activities but kept out of sight. When the Allies arrived in 1943 they made the mistake of replacing Fascist Mayors with self-advertisers who turned out to be mafiosi, often deported American criminals. 'Within weeks of the Allied landings in Sicily, much of what little Fascism had achieved against the mafia was obliterated'. Subsequently 'official Italy' tried to convince itself 'that organised crime in the south was a residue of backwardness that would vanish of its own accord as the country progressed'. They were wrong and Dickie's next book explained why. Five stars.
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on 12 August 2011
I read this follwing JD's earlier book and expecting the same detailed account. I found this the case but much more readable. Each mafia association is described in full, its history, profile and development and how it is linked to the other crime syndicates. The links with politics and the development of modern day Italy are explored and expalined in full. Whether you are a budding 'Mafiosa' or not this is an absorbing account from the birth of 'mafia' to almost the current times. It is a great read,and some memorable quotes. Take a few hours off and treat yourself to a good read. Neil D.
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on 26 September 2013
A great read that intertwines the three differing criminal organisations. Once I stopped I couldn't put it down and thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on 18 February 2016
Blood Brotherhood with Cosa Nostra and Mafia Republic are a trilogy of books that charts the rise, influence, persistence and power of the three distinct 'fraternities' of Italian organised crime or Mafias. The book examines the foundation myths of the Mafias whilst explaining their beginnings and growth in Southern Italy; the Camorra from Naples, the 'Ndrangheta from Calabria and Cosa Nostra from Sicily. Rich in detail and brilliantly researched, this book describes with a steady anger and dismay the failure, decade on decade, of a modern country to eliminate these criminal organisations and their spread and influence in all areas of commerce, politics, the judiciary and the day to day lives of ordinary Italians. Italy, who has not known stable Government since the war, comes out badly. Attempts to defeat the Mafias often thwarted by corrupt politicians and judges, decent men routinely murdered, whole towns and cities in the grip of organised crime. Reading Blood Brotherhood is not for the fainthearted. Mafia influence goes to the top of Italian society. It has exported itself to America, its presence felt in other European countries. The book starts and this review ends with a quote from Corrado Alvaro 'The blackest despair that can take hold of any society is the fear that living honestly is futile'. A read that will leave you reeling.
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on 25 May 2013
Fantastic book, essential for anyone who has a vague interest in social history, the mafia or Italy itself. One aspect that surprised me was the extent to which the mafia (who were then more primitively prison gangs) was involved in the Risorgimento. Reads very well, more like a novel than a history book. Incredibly enjoyable, and I will be ordering Mafia Republic (the second 'volume' dealing with 1945 to present day).
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on 5 December 2015
A great contribution to exploring the real origins of the Mafia in Italy. The book starts in Naples over 200 years ago where the Camorra first appear, it seems to be them who control the prisons and jails of area. The book contains an account of the Carabinieri's successful defeat of the Camorra in the early 20th century and how the code of silence was momentarily broken. A similar account of police work in Sicily doesn't quite end on such a happy note with a northern policeman dispatched to the island unable to overcome the gang due to their political connections. The book also contains early accounts of the mafia of Calabria, knife wielding young men largely from prison backgrounds who terriroised decent society.

The book uses hard evidence to also break the myth that the mafia were destroyed by Mussolini and only returned in the late 40s with the help of the USA. No says Dickie, investigations showed organised crime continued to flourish in Italy during the 1930s and the Italian State knew this.
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on 6 March 2012
A brilliant book by a brilliant historian, John Dickie. Plots the tortured birth of the prison Camorra to its death as an "Honoured Society" in 1912, one of the many surprising facts of the book. There is also interesting new information in the book about the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the most successful of the brotherhoods in the early years. The author charts the rise of the picciotteria "lads with attitude", precursors of the 'Ndrangheta, with particular skill. The story of Giusseppe Musolino, known as "The King of the Aspromonte", had me enthralled. Brigand, folk hero and picciotteria he was Calabria's version of Salvatore Giulano, the last bandit of Sicily. The book takes you up too the end of the Second World War and I just wanted to read on but don't worry because there is a sequel on the way. I can't wait for John's new book, Mafia Republics, to come out in early 2013 and I hope he writes another hundred books on the Mafia's of the Southern Italy.
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on 2 February 2012
This is the second book of what now looks like a genre (a third book is to be published shortly) by this brilliant author: historical evidence on mafia and the likes to be read as an unputdownable thriller story. "Blood brotherhoods" is as entertaining as a Martin Scorsese's gangster movie and well researched as an outstanding academic paper. It is about how the mafia and her sister associations (camorra and ndrangheta) partnered with the State to co-manage their relevant territories since the inception of Italy as a single nation. Absolutely brilliant!
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