Five Families: Summary & Review

five families cover

“Five Families” (2016) is a book in which author Selwyn Raab chronicles the history of Cosa Nostra in the United States, together with the succession of bosses, prominent made men, intrigues, and the eternal fight between the mafia and the law.
The book ends being a great case study on Machiavellianism, power, and effective leadership.


Selwyn Raab is a journalist, author and former investigative reporter for The New York Times. He focuses on American Mafia and US criminal justice topics.

The Mafia Reached Immense Power In The U.S.

Writes Raab:

Unquestionably, the gangs known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families evolved into the reigning giants of the underworld.

The mafia had so much power at certain points that it elected, or contributed to elect, highly-placed union officials, politicians, New York majors and, some mobsters said, the votes they controlled were enough to have swayed JFK’s election.
If they weren’t enough to elect Kennedy, the mafia seems to have had either a conspirator, or the main designer, of JFK’s murder.

The organized structure and the “watching each other’s back” was a major part of the mafia’s power.
Says Raab:

A soldier had the added security of knowing that other criminals who suspected or were aware of his connections feared injuring or insulting him; the lethal retaliatory power of the organization was well known in the underworld.

That power started early:

By the late 1930s, however, through undercover work and arrests, his agents discovered a major shift in the nation’s narcotics networks: all were virtually controlled by Italian-American gangs. “They seemed to have an extraordinary cohesion,” Anslinger later said of the Mafia gangs.

And writing about the Gambinos and Gotti’s initial reign over it:

He began his reign overseeing the largest and probably the most powerful criminal organization in the nation’s history

That cohesion and that avoidance of too many internal wars was one of the mafia’s secrets to power.

Cosa Nostra Secrets to Success: Collaboration (Thanks to Lucky Luciano)

Lucky Luciano was a genius mastermind.

He turned a group of fighting gangs, into a group of collaborative enterprises who would soon come to dominate the underworld.

The secret was to drop war and over-competition, in favor of more collaboration, and more dialogue to resolve issues.

At an individual’s level, being a “made” men, meant being “connected”, and having people you could call upon, and that would support you.
And at an organizational level, it meant no resources wasted on internal wars, and more power to control the external environment.

The “commission” was one of the most notable elements to ensure peace and cooperation among families.
And proof that it worked was that, absent the commission, internal wars escalated. Says Raab:

The argument between members of two families had festered because the Commission case trial was under way, and the customary sit-down formula for resolving Mob disputes was suspended.

For more read Power University and:

Tip: As You Increase Collaboration, Decrease the Scope for War

Writes Raab:

Corallo, like other Mob leaders, had good reasons to prevent hits on law-enforcement personnel. Murdering a cop, an investigator, or a prosecutor would unleash the fury of the law against the Mob and make normal business hazardous. Furthermore, the rule was aimed at maintaining strict discipline and preventing rash, unauthorized acts by hotheaded troops.

Cosa Nostra Secret to Success II: Structure & Succession Plans

Says Raab:

The law-enforcement establishment may have rejoiced at the victories over Luciano and Capone, but they failed to understand a seismic change had occurred in the families of organized crime: the viability of Mafia families was not endangered by the imprisonment of a top man. Unlike the loosely organized Jewish and Irish ethnic gangs fashioned haphazardly by the likes of Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden, a cohesive borgata did not disintegrate at the sudden absence of its head man.

That’s the power of organization and structure.
Says Raas:

Despite the murder of Paul Castellano and the convictions of Tony Salerno, Ducks Corallo, and Carmine Persico, business continued to hum in every gang, and replacements filled the gaps left by the stricken leaders and their cohorts. This continued prosperity could be credited to Lucky Luciano’s ingenious organizational plan for the Cosa Nostra, devised in 1931. Fifty-five years later, Luciano’s legacy kept each family’s table of organization intact and functioning. As the 1980s ended, there seemed no end to the plundering by the five families.

2.3. Cosa Nostra Secret to Success III: Organization First

Said one smart observer:

“If one member can dispute a Commission order you can say good-bye to Cosa Nostra, because the Commission is the backbone of Cosa Nostra. It will be like the Irish mobs who fight among themselves and they [the Italians] will be having gang wars like they had years ago.”

2.4. Mafia’s (Sexual) Values: Keep Your Trysts Hidden for Respect of Your Wife

Says Raab:

Mafiosi were expected to maintain a higher regard for “the sanctity of their women” than the rest of male society. “Their rigid code prohibited an affair with the wife or girlfriend of another mobster under penalty of death,” Ragano noted. “And they were obligated to protect the wife or mistress of a fellow mobster if he was not around.” Trafficante explained to Ragano that the Mafia had no objection to married soldiers having affairs, but there was a caveat. “Santo had a mistress but conducted the affair with discretion to spare his wife and daughters embarrassment,” Ragano added. “That was expected of all Mafia members.”

Something confirmed by Salvatore Gravano:

Those same values within relationships also make the mafia stronger: if you respect your partner, it’s implied, then chances are that you also respect your partners in crime.

Why Cosa Nostra Didn’t Like Narcotics

You know it from The Godfather:

The mafia didn’t exactly love narcotics.

Yes, they often trafficked it, and some mobsters did it “on the low” and on a “I send you money, but you don’t ask me” basis. But still, narcotics weren’t the mafia’s centerpieces.

Why not?


  1. Drugs’ harsh penalties posed a risk that more people could turn informers
  2. Traffickers might get addicted, and become unreliable loose cannons
  3. The public didn’t like drugs (but were more OK with prostitution and gambling)

How RICO Was Born: Machiavellian Strategizing

To pass RICO:

Before presenting his bill to the Senate, the canny McClellan allowed Celler to introduce amendments in the House’s bill modifying controversial parts of the act unrelated to RICO. The disputes over other aspects of the legislation served as lightening rods, distracting Cellar’s attention from substantially altering RICO in his proposed House bill. Celler anticipated that his non-RICO objections would force McClellan to call for a conference, which would give him the opportunity to block or substantially modify RICO to his satisfaction. But McClellan surprised him by accepting the amended House version. Since the approved Senate and House bills were identical, there was no need for the conference that Celler had counted on. He had been outwitted.

An interesting technique to use: draw attention to something tangential, or do something eye-catching about something tangential, and maybe what you really care about will go unnoticed.

Power Move: Demand Fairness From Your Boss

… And If You Survive, You Gain Status.

That’s a risk, but in certain situations, it can be worth it. And it worked for young John Gotti.

This is what John Gotti did:

At Lewisburg, Gotti confronted Carmine Galante (…) was in (…) effect the “warden” of the prison’s Mafia wing. Although not a made man, Gotti had the nerve to complain to Galante that he was bribing guards to get steaks, delicacies, and booze only for himself and nine or ten Bonanno wiseguys. The upstart Gotti demanded that the don share the wealth with other imprisoned mobsters. Gotti’s boldness and poise so impressed Galante that he expressed interest in enlisting him in his own family. Informers reported that Galante said, “I’d like to have him in my crew,” and was disappointed to hear that John “belongs to Neil,” a reference to Aniello Dellacroce.

Strategy For Power: Propose a Big Slice, Instead of War

A genius move from Paul Castellano:

According to Mob folklore, “Big Paul” won over “Mr. Neil,” with a practical proposal: “Anything you had with Carlo, you keep. Anything more you want, we talk.” By compromising instead of selecting a new underboss committed to him, Castellano had divided Gambino’s unified kingdom into two domains. But through appeasement he had avoided internecine combat, and with plenty of spoils for himself and for Dellacroce, there was little to worry about.

Castellano basically negotiated that by saying “yes, I’ll become the boss, but I let you keep everything you have, and maybe more”.
It’s a great strategy because now your potential opponent will think “a bigger slice, or war”?
And chances are that he will go for the sure bigger slice.

5. The Power to Give, Gives Power

Says Raab:

Other Mafia bosses became indebted to Costello for exerting his sway when their soldiers and associates needed a favor from a judge, a prosecutor, or a well-placed city official.

Obviously, as per law of social exchange, when you have the power to give, you have power to ask back.
So the power of the mafia wasn’t just violence as someone might naively think. It was also the “power of connection”, with those connections being other powerful men, including legit men.

Power Tip 1: Pick Low-Competition Markets

Says Bonanno:

In cities that had only one family, godfathers enjoyed long careers and died of natural causes, Bonanno later wrote about that era. “In New York City, however, where strife was almost routine, fathers led precarious lives.”

Machiavellian Tip 1: Distrust An Allied Snitch

Says Raab:

(…) Costello was familiar with Genovese’s Machiavellian intrigues and savage inclinations. “If you went to Vito,” Joe Valachi noted, “and told him about some guy who was doing wrong, he would have this guy killed, and then he would have you killed for telling on this guy.”

Be Aware of Boss’ Tests

Bosses sometimes test the loyalty and availability of their underlings.

That can happen before taking you onboard, or when the boss is deciding who to promote.
Says Raab:

(…) the wily mobster soon curbed his acolyte’s independent streak while teaching him an elementary Mafia lesson. “Go get me an ice cream,” Delasco ordered Accetturo (…). The embarrassed Accetturo knew he would be demeaned in front of his pals if he acted as an errand boy. But understanding that Delasco was testing his obedience, he bought his boss the ice cream. “I knew that if I wanted to stay with Ham and learn from him, he had to have absolute control over me,” Accetturo explained. “He had to break me and I took the bit in my mouth.”

Life-Success Tip: Don’t Deride People. Not Even When You’re Higher Power

John Gotti created one informer against him by demeaning and ridiculing him:

Gotti, however, contributed to Johnson’s concealed anger, referring to him as the “Redskin” or “the half-breed.” Arrested by the FBI for gambling and extortion, Johnson saw a way out by becoming an informer. Upset at being derisively treated by mafiosi partners and seeking FBI intervention in case he got jammed up again, Johnson signed on with the bureau.

Deriding people was a thing for Gotti.
He even mocked his daughter for his husband’s mental health issues.

Leader Tip: Don’t Give People Reason to Plot Against You

Of course, this is not always easy.

And still, many leaders sometimes seem to forget this basic rule and, high on their power, feel like they can get away with rude behavior.
Rude behavior is a sign of power, it says that you can be rude. But it also generally decreases your power, as people will start resenting you.

Massino’s cold explanation to Vitale for the demotion was that rank-and-file capos and soldiers “detest you.” Virtually banished, Vitale was even prohibited from appearing at the Casa Blanca, where every capo was welcomed at Massino’s table in the restaurant. Indignant at being shelved and turned into an outcast, Vitale was powerless to resist. Seething, he complained that Massino had sharply cut his illegal revenues by driving a wedge between him and the rest of the family. “There was nothing I wouldn’t have done for the man,” Vitale whined to a capo who still talked to him. “He’s taken the captains away from me; they aren’t allowed to call me; they aren’t allowed to give me Christmas presents.”

The result?

When Vitale was pinched he had one further incentive to cooperate and testify: the opportunity to hit back at his rude boss.
And he did.

Says Raab:

Massino’s biggest blunder was his mistreatment of Sal Vitale.
Even so, the humiliated brother-in-law apparently was prepared at first to ride out their joint RICO storm. All evidence indicates that Vitale had no intention of betraying Massino until Sallet and McCaffrey warned him about the plot on his life. If Vitale had remained steadfast, Massino would have stood a strong chance of beating the original indictment and again frustrating the FBI’s best efforts to bring him to justice. A traditionalist, Massino broke a Cosa Nostra cardinal rule by blatantly “disrespecting” Vitale, his most dedicated supporter for thirty years. It was a fatal error. Vitale’s decision to become “a C.W.,” a cooperative witness, was the decisive factor in accelerating the domino syndrome of defections that cinched Massino’s conviction.

So it was his disrespectful behavior, plus the classic mafia blunder: letting fear grow so big, that people would escape to the government.

Leader Tip: Don’t Be Too Harsh

Another mistake by John Gotti:

Old friend Fat Ange Ruggiero received a dose of similar mean-spirited treatment. Infuriated by the damage caused by Ruggiero’s careless talk, Gotti demoted him from capo to soldier at a time when Ruggiero, his 250-pound frame reduced to a weight of less than 150 pounds, lay fatally ill with cancer. Despite fervent requests from Ruggiero’s friends and relatives, Gotti refused to visit or telephone his devoted follower in his final days.

Gotti was right to be angry. But the man was dying, and Gotti came across as too mean.

Leader Tip: Beware a Reputation for Machiavellianism

Again, Gotti:

Reviewing management techniques with his new counselor, Gotti thought Gravano was overly generous in sharing the wealth with his closest lieutenants and helpmates. “Listen to me,” advised Gotti, who before reaching the top had chafed at Paul Castellano’s greed. “Keep them broke. Keep them hungry. Don’t make them too fat.”

How’s Sammy Gravano going to feel about Gotti after that?
He’s going to feel like:

  1. Gotti is a greedy man
  2. Gotti is a Machiavellian man who seeks power even if it means making his own team lose

So, if you’re Machiavellian, you’re probably better off not letting people know about it.

Leader Tip: Beware You Don’t Get Overly-Domineering

John was bossy towards his lawyer as well:

(…) his gregariousness irritated Gotti. Observing Krieger chatting during a break with Maloney, Gotti motioned imperiously for his lawyer to stop talking with the enemy. “I better end this or I’ll wind up in the trunk of a car,” said Krieger, winking at Maloney.

Leader Tip: Learn to Judge Characters

Says Raab:

His inability to judge loyalty and talent were pitfalls for Gotti.

Specifically, the author refers to Gravano:

his record for sacrificing others should have been a cautionary signal to Gotti. Previously, whenever Gravano became entangled in an internal dispute, his solution was to kill the rival and shift blame for the mishap onto someone else. Even among unprincipled mobsters, he had a reputation for unscrupulousness. If advancement required whacking his brother-in-law or a business partner, Sammy the Bull went along with it.

And his loyalty had never been tested:

Gravano, unlike many skilled mafiosi, had never been imprisoned, Gotti had no idea of how he would react in the crucible of prison. He misjudged Gravano’s dedication to him and the myth of Cosa Nostra loyalty.

I think the author might be onto something, albeit I think we can’t forget that Gotti didn’t help his case by being careless, never apologizing, being overly bossy, and letting his narcissism get out of control.

Leader Tip: Don’t Reject Advice Off-Hand Out of Power & Ego

Chin Gigante was, in many ways, a mafia genius.

He faked being insane, he duped police for decades and, contrary to many of his colleagues, he never self-incriminated himself in any recorded conversation captured by countless hours of audio-surveillance.

The FBI couldn’t pin anything on him, and other mafia dons respected.
Even John Gotti, who loved to make fun of others, never said anything bad about Chin:

Bruce Mouw, the head of the Gambino Squad, sensed Gotti’s concern about crossing swords with Chin. “We heard John trash everybody. He called the Colombos ‘Cambodians.’ Vic Amuso and Gaspipe were ridiculed as ‘the Circus.’ He even mocked his good friend Massino. But he never trashed Chin, never once. He always spoke of him with deep respect.”

So, how did Gigante come to fall?

Because he made an exception for a guy he liked.
And he resisted pressure from others who told him that his protege’ was dangerous, and potentially an informer.
Those pressures actually made Chin resist taking any action, because he didn’t want to follow what others told him.
Says Raab:

Paradoxically, the demands by the Gambino and Lucchese bigwigs for Savino’s head might have protected him. Considering himself the supreme Mafia boss in the country, Gigante had no intention of heeding the advice of rivals, particularly the detested John Gotti, and Gaspipe Casso, a relative novice in high Mafia politics.

Leader Strategy: Be Undemanding To Increase Love & Loyalty

I think that being “undemanding” as a leader is a big risk.

It’s a risk because you can come across as “not strong enough” for a leader, and like you can be duped.
And it’s a risk because some people might forget there is a leader, and that the leader is you.

However, if it’s a strong leader who is undemanding and does not ask for large shares of the spoils, then it can become a big positive.

See for example mafia boss Ducks Corallo taking this approach:

When Ducks first took over in 1970, the New Jersey wing every year contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the New York hierarchy. By the 1980s, the annual payments had been substantially trimmed; Accetturo was transferring a paltry $10,000 to $50,000 without drawing flak from New York. Wealthy as Croesus and getting on in years, Corallo became less gluttonous and lowered his demands from the New Jersey crew.

The result?
Accetturo loved Corallo:

A consummate mafioso and a fervent believer in the sanctity of the Mafia’s code of honor, Accetturo represented the Mafia ideal. Loyal, absolutely trustworthy (…)

This was a similar strategy for the highly successful Chin Gigante of the Genovese family:

Gravano was impressed by a remark Chin made about surviving as a Cosa Nostra don. Mentioning that he had enough wealth from his own schemes, Gigante said he was not pressing his crews for huge cuts from their rackets. Sammy the Bull thought that was a smart strategy for ensuring loyalty in a family that had plenty to go around—more than $100 million a year.

Beware of Over-Greed

Now what happened when the leadership change?

When the new leadership took over, they demanded 50% or more of the profits from Accetturo.
And that pushed Accetturo into full-scale rebellion, and lead to the brink of a war first, and then to Accettuor testifying to the FBI, and taking much of his crew with him.

Leadership is a lot about balance.
Be careful of being too undemanding if you’re not in a position to do so, and be careful of pushing and asking for too much.

Anyone’s Tip: Don’t Talk Behind People’s Back!

Some people call Sammy Gravano a rat.

But they don’t consider how much Gotti contributed to turning Sammy against him.
As a matter of fact, I believe when Sammy said that he’d never turned if Gotti had been a better boss (Maas, 1997).
For example:

One tape was the long parley between Gotti and Locascio on December 12, 1989. It staggered Sammy the Bull. He heard Gotti heap scorn on him for prospering from construction-industry scams, and revile him for building his own rival Mob power bases. Even more ominous-sounding to Sammy’s chances of acquittal were Gotti’s remarks pinning the blame for a multitude of murders on him alone; supposedly the slayings were committed to resolve Sammy’s financial disputes with Mafia business partners.

Life Strategy: Be Friendly With Your Enemy

Sometimes, you have a declared enemy.

And you both know it.

However, you still have two choices:

  1. Some people choose the antagonizing and hating road
  2. Some others choose a more “gentleman” approach, to fight while still respecting the enemy

Mafia boss Massino took the Bonanno family when it was in tatters, and brought it back as the most powerful of the five New York families.
Massino always kept a “gentleman warrior” approach.

The mindset of the gentleman warrior approach is:

Yes, we’re enemies and we want to beat each other. And I’ll do be darn best to beat you. But we can still be courteous while we compete.

It’s a bit like the mindset of “tough on ideas, but kind on people, which in this case becomes “tough in the game/fight, but kind on the opponent outside of the game/fight“.

Massino imposed the same mindset and approach to all of his family.

It can take some emotional maturity to apply this mindset, and most people get swept away by the competitive spirit.

Let’s see some applications in real life:

The Attitude of Antagonizing

Franzese: I became a major target of law enforcement (exactly what you want to avoid), I was indicted 5 times, beat every case (that’s a huge red flag: your enemy is dogged). Rudy told me “Franzese, if I convict you on this, you’re gonna get double what your father got, I’m gonna give you 100 years. I said “Rudy, bring it on, I beat you 4 times, let’s go for round 5.
(now wise Franzese speaking) Guys, that’s the dumbest thing you could ever do. You don’t antagonize them (the FBI), they don’t need any more incentives to come after you.

Exactly right, that type of attitude gives them incentives to come after you harder, and to punish you harder if they can catch you.
Furthermore, if convicted, you also provide them a valid reason to treat you like a devilish enemy -very different from a “gentleman’s enemy”-.

That’s an attitude that some criminals and mobsters have against the police.
And it only makes their life -as well as the police’s life- harder.

Flaunting how you’re “beating” them will also make your enemy more dogged in your pursuit.
See John Gotti or Al Capone.
They both might have stayed free far longer, if they had avoided the spotlight and the attitude of “I beat them and I rub it in”.

The Effects of Antagonizing

From that same video:

Franzese: I’ve witnessed some things that were kind of unpleasant, every once in a while the agents would get out of hand (goes on to tell a story of an FBI agent who ruins his family dinner, ends up drawing a gun)

Before the rights of detainees were extended, beatings of detainees were also common -of lower-level mobsters mostly, as cops were also probably worried of assaulting higher-power mobsters-.

Life’s Mindset: The Gentleman Warrior Attitude

Now compare with mobster Joseph Massino, who instead took a far more friendly with law enforcement:

“Get used to my face, because you’re going to see a lot of it for a long time”, Pat Marshall, the agent who had been hunting Massino, forwarned when he was brought to FBI headquarters (Pat starts off with a competitive frame).
Marshall recognizes that he was confronting an imperturbable foe. “He took my warning with a grain of salt and said calmly no problem, do what you got to do” (ignores the competitive frame, installs a gentleman’s frame to competition)

Massino called the FBI agents by name, and was always courteous.
In one instance, he even defended an FBI agent who was being encircled and then gave him back the electronic surveillance device Massino had uncovered.

The Gentleman Warrior Effects

Being courteous towards your enemy might not prevent you from losing.

In our case study here, the law will still take its course.

But it won’t hurt for sure, and it might as easily soften your loss, and shorten your sentence.

Plus, it will likely make the process, and the possible conviction, far easier on you.
From the same book:

Picked up at his Howard Beach home, Massino politely asked to be cuffed outside, not in the presence of his wife and teenaged daughters.
“Because he was always the gentleman and cordial with us”, Marshall granted him that favor.

Don’t Be Duped: A Criminal Always A Criminal (?)

I don’t necessarily think a criminal will always be a criminal.

But it’s definitely something you should keep in mind.

After Sammy Gravano’s testimony, the FBI seemed to think he was the best thing to walk on earth.
Says Raas:

The hearing resembled a testimonial dinner, with officials competing to outdo each other in extolling, with honeyed adulation, Gravano’s contributions
As recognition of Gravano’s exceptional services, the FBI’s Jim Fox presented him with a private award that he handed out exclusively to agents for valor—a specially designed wristwatch with an American flag on its face.

As well as the judge:

Before pronouncing sentence, Glasser quoted the opinion of an FBI agent who characterized Gravano’s decision to testify against Gotti as “the bravest thing I have ever seen.” The judge seemingly agreed with the appraisal of Gravano’s supporters that he had metamorphosed from an unprincipled mobster to a law-and-order advocate.

And little later, that same law-abiding man:

Young, hero-worshiping members of his thirty-strong Ecstasy crew testified that Gravano liked being addressed as “Boss” and “Big Man.” He tutored them on the best weapons and tactics to be used in hits, and in his raspy voice spoke of organizing a new kind of Mob in Arizona. “He couldn’t sit in Arizona and be a pool salesman or run a construction company,” Linda Lacewell, an assistant U.S. Attorney, said at a hearing. “He wanted the old days back; he wanted ‘the life’ back, the power back.”

I believe the author was being overly mean here.
Everyone would enjoy being called “boss”, and he probably was the boss and best guy in the new crew.
Still, it shows how silly the authorities were in believing Gravano was a totally new and different man.

Mobster Tip: Watch Out for Non-Mobsters Fanboys

Yes, some people these days love to say that “all mobsters eventually turn”.

But that’s not really true.
Or, at least, it’s not nearly as bad for non-mobsters.
The first to turn against Massino indeed was a businessman, sort of an associate and a mafia groupie who didn’t grow up a gangster:

brusque conversation with the two agents about the legal consequences of conspiring with gangsters persuaded Scozzari to abandon his romanticized concept of the Mafia, and to join the undercover campaign. He, too, secretly began taping meetings with Cantarella. “It wasn’t difficult to turn him,” Sallet said. “Money guys like to live well and have a lot to lose.”

The threat of a relatively small sentence was enough to turn him.
So watch out associating with guys who haven’t grown up “within the life”.

Drug dealers and drug users are also often weak links in the mafia, and one step that smart bosses are taking against it is to make sure that anyone using or selling drugs cannot ever be made.

Mobster Tip: Don’t Overkill

Gaspise inaugurated in the Bonannos a period of extreme internal violence.

Said Chiodo:

“These guys [Amuso and Casso] have a pattern of calling people rats and they are marking guys rats and killing them,” Chiodo cautioned. “I got information that you and I are going to be killed and hurt.”


D’Arco fretted about his own fate. He knew that the mere whisper of disloyalty, without substantiation, would provoke Casso into whacking even the most faithful servant.

When people are too scared to operate, they might operate poorly, or seek an alliance to kill you and depose the threat.
And fear might not be enough to stop them:

“Even though he was in a room with agents, he was so paranoid of Gaspipe that he was hiding in the bathroom when we came in,” O’Connell recalled. “He told us, ‘You have to understand how dangerous this guy is. He has sources, agents, he knows what’s going on.’”

Overkilling and too much fear is even more dangeorus when you’re not the supreme country leader.
If you’re the supreme country leader, then people have fewer ways to harm you. But within a functioning government, they can always run to the police and seek protection in a witness program.
Which is what happened:

Vittorio “Little Vic” Amuso is appointed boss with underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso as an equal, if not stronger, commander. Their bloody purge of suspected internal enemies produces numerous defections and convictions.

On this topic, also read:

Mafia Prince: 10 Lessons Learned From Philly’s Mafia

Kill, Don’t Wound – & Don’t Wound or Kill Stand Up Guys-

A rule made famous by Robert Greene:

Crush your enemies totally.

If you don’t, you only make one bigger enemy.

Fat Pete Chiodo had spurned an offer from prosecutors for greater leniency if he testified (…). “I appreciate what you guys are trying to do but no thanks—goodbye and good luck,” Chiodo told (…). Twelve bullet wounds finally convinced him that survival depended on his breaking his omertà vow and converted him into an informer.

Chiodo was a stand-up guy.
Trying to kill him was a mistake because he would have kept his mouth shut.
By wounding him, the bosses reached the worst possible outcome: make him angry and fearful enough to go into the witness protection program, and still alive to talk.

The Mafia Is Not Dead

Starting from the ’80s and during 90s as well as ’00s, the government scored huge wins against the mafia.

It seemed like the mafia was on the rope, and possibly on the verge of dying.

But, the author cautions, there are plenty of signs the mafia is still there, and still able to generate profits from old schemes, as well as smart new ones.

Blakey, the original creator of the RICO law that was a bane for most godfathers, says:

We don’t win the war against the Mob,” he advises, “all we can do is contain or control it.”

The mafia in Sicily also can provide some clues, and the author even says that eruptions in the Sicilian mafia reverberate in the US.
There was a period when Sicilian mafia went into an all-out war with the government, and it paid a heavy price.
Then, the mafia changed approach, avoided violent confrontations, and went “silent”.

Palermo’s chief prosecutor, Pietro Grasso, adds, “The silence of the Mafia is a strategy, not an absence.”

So if you don’t hear about the mafia, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there, or that it’s not powerful.
As a mtter of fact, just like in the ’30s through the ’80s, it might be the sign that it’s even stronger.

More Wisdom

  • Don’t show weakness, not even within collaborations

“But never show any weakness to other families, or they’ll take advantage of you,” Massino lectured Vitale.

In organizations where power is negotiated with life and death, you must be careful of what other people think.
Take this example:

One of the first capos to disappear was the Bronx’s Anthony “Buddy” Luongo, who was clipped shortly before Amuso and Casso were officially installed. Luongo’s sin: Corallo was believed to have briefly considered naming him as his successor. He might, therefore, be envious of the Brooklyn upstarts who were taking over the borgata.

So a guy got killed because the bosses thought he might be jealous.
If Luongo had had more Machiavellian skills, he might have saved his life by proactively showing allegiance to the new bosses.

  • Honesty can help maintain cooperation

Says Accetturo:

The old-time guys who taught me would never think of cheating somebody in a deal or in a dice or card game. They played by the old rules because they wanted the games and deals to go on forever.”

  • Fighting the “good representative of us” frame

More than one mafioso racketeer chastised Salerno for investigating fellow Italian-Americans.
They complained, “Why does it have to be one of your own kind that hurts you?” Salerno would snap back, “I’m not your kind and you’re not my kind. The only thing we have in common is that we sprang from an Italian heritage and culture—and you are the traitor to that heritage and culture which I am proud to be part of.”

Good frame control by Salerno.

  • Don’t be your own judge, hire one

Most people who defended themselves did poorly.
This is how Carmine Persico fared:

His intent may have been to show that Cantalupo despised him and was testifying to obtain revenge. “You was angry because you was beat up, and you was beat up because you didn’t pay back the money,” Persico lashed out at Cantalupo. His argumentative question was a costly gaffe. The beating was over a loan-sharking debt, further illuminating Persico and his underlings as ruthless gangsters.

  • Make your organization an honor to join

When you can make your organization an honor to join, you can bet many people will line up to join, and more people will respect its system of values.
Joining the mafia was an honor for many.
For example:

Anthony Accetturo, the boy from Newark who obtained the nickname “Tumac,” for his caveman ferocity, and who described his admission into Cosa Nostra by Ducks Corallo as “the greatest honor of my life.”

  • Private enterprise isn’t always better

The city naively believed private carters would do the job more efficiently and cheaper than the Sanitation Department. Within a decade, the Genovese and Gambino families were the ones cleaning up from the changeover.

Maybe something Rothbard and the other free-market extremists should take into account.

Some guys in the red pill like to say that women are (all) opportunists and have little loyalty.
Instead, Massino’s wife remained beside him even as he was being crushed in court. When did she turn on him?
When Massino decided to cooperate.
This is a case of a woman having stronger morals nad values than the mafioso husband (albeit of course we can argue they were the wrong values):

In relinquishing the criminally acquired nest egg, Mrs. Massino indicated that a marital rift had developed over her husband’s abandonment of omertà. The long-devoted wife informed reporters that she disapproved of Joe’s apostasy and was uncertain about visiting him in prison.


A funny quote on untimely FBI arrests:

Fat Tony Salerno was the most chagrined at the timing. (…) FBI agents arrived simultaneously with the delivery of a huge takeout order from the neighborhood’s Andy’s Colonial Tavern. The agents refused Salerno’s request to allow him to partake of the meal

On Gotti’s degenerate gambling fooling an FBI agent tailing him:

A few paces behind Gotti at the Meadowlands Harness Race Track in New Jersey, Morrill saw him plunk down $8,000 on a single race. Suspecting that the mobster had “an inside tip,” the agent placed a “more modest amount” on the same horse. The horse finished almost dead last. “You’re ruining me, John,” Morrill said to Gotti in the grandstand when the race was over. “What do you want from me?” Gotti countered. “You know I’m a degenerate gambler.”

On Sicilian “zips” more effective than American counterparts:

although most American mobsters resented the Zips, the Sicilian made men, because of their patronizing attitude, the Americans felt they were more dedicated and ruthless than their Yankee counterparts. Accetturo acknowledged that the Sicilians had the right to feel superior. Under strict control of their bosses in Sicily, they were better disciplined, more tightly knit, and more secretive than American gangsters, he thought.

There is lots of talk about mafiosi being “all fake and all rats”.
Yet, it’s almost always a mistake to over-generalize to everyone, and some mafiosi did stand by the “code”:

A concrete-hard thug, Lino had shown his mettle and defiance of the police when he was twenty-five. Picked up in 1962 for helping the flight of a stickup man who had shot and murdered two detectives in Brooklyn, he kept his mouth shut despite barbaric beatings over four days by the police. A leg and an arm were broken and repeated battering of his head gave him a permanent incessant blink. Finally, a broom handle was plunged into his rectum (…) Not yet a mafioso, Lino unflinchingly adhered to the code of omertà.


  • Some bias in the author

At times, it felt like the author wanted to find negatives about the mafia that might not have been there.

For example, he writes:

A commonly recycled story (…) subtly praised the Mafia, citing its formidable presence for low street-crime rates in predominantly Italian-American sections. With predatory crime soaring, two Mafia strongholds, Manhattan’s Little Italy and Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst, were presented as safe havens to live in.
Unreported and underemphasized were the factors behind these statistics.
The gangsters relied on sympathetic neighborhood residents to alert them to the presence of probing law-enforcement agents and suspicious outsiders (…). These watchdogs helped turn their neighborhoods into xenophobic enclaves, sometimes resulting in violence against strangers, especially African-Americans and Hispanics.

I don’t think the mafia was a major driver behind the racial issues that have been plaguing the US from time immemorial.
And as far as I know, it’s true that mafia neighborhoods have lower levels of crime.


Probably the best researched, most thorough overview of the American mafia from the beginning until the early 2000s.
And if you know how to read between the lines, also a lot to learn on power and strategies.


One of the best overviews on the history of the American mafia.

And a treasure trove of the most Machiavellian social strategies, as well as leadership lessons learned.

Also see:

Or get the book on Amazon.

Scroll to Top