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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Mafia

A Cultural History

Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Mafia

A Cultural History

What is it about Tony Soprano that makes him so amiable? For that matter, how is it that many of us secretly want Scarface to succeed or see Michael Corleone as, ultimately, a hero? What draws us into the otherwise horrifically violent world of the mafia? In The Mafia, Roberto M. Dainotto explores the irresistible appeal of this particular brand of organized crime, its history, and the mythology we have developed around it.

Dainotto traces the development of the mafia from its rural beginnings in Western Sicily to its growth into a global crime organization alongside a parallel examination of its evolution in music, print, and on the big screen. He probes the tension between the real mafia—its violent, often brutal reality—and how we imagine it to be: a mythical potpourri of codes of honor, family values, and chivalry. But rather than dismiss our collective imagining of the mafia as a complete fiction, Dainotto instead sets out to understand what needs and desires or material and psychic longing our fantasies about the mafia—the best kind of the bad life—are meant to satisfy.

Exploring the rich array of films, books, television programs, music, and even video games portraying and inspired by the mafia, this book offers not only a social, economic, and political history of one of the most iconic underground cultures, but a new way of understanding our enduring fascination with the complex society that lurks behind the sinister Omertà of the family business.

240 pages | 25 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2015


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"Fascination with the Mafia is something Dainotto digs into in this enjoyable and informative read. We are drawn to the traditions and history, while frightened by its brutality and ruthlessness. In answering why, Dainotto jumps from Garibaldi to The Godfather, and deconstructs works such as the excellent film Salvatore Giuliano. Dainotto draws a portrait of the Sicilian and Sicilian-American Mafia and its evolution from land-control in south Italy to big business in the United States. And he gives it astute cultural contexts, observing how a Mafia boss was similar to what many desired in the concept of the American dream. But he was also everything they feared."

Irish Times

“Dainotto’s The Mafia: A Cultural History offers something unique in the somewhat overcrowded category of books about the Mafia and its pop culture representations: a Sicilian intellectual’s historically informed yet personal perspective on the enduring appeal of organized crime stories.”


“Adopting a cultural studies approach to his subject, Dainotto argues for reading the Mafia as a cultural system whose development traces back to the 19th century. He is masterful in extending the discussion beyond a single field, and in his multidisciplinary analysis he connects the Mafia as a worldwide organization with historical origins in Sicily to its literary and cinematic representations in Italy and the US. He explains how theater, television, music, and video games renegotiate the organization, and he highlights how these depictions of the Mafia and its bosses blur the border between fiction and reality. Dainotto’s reliance on secondary sources notwithstanding, his unique approach to the Mafia as a cultural system bonding the organization(s) per se (the historical Mafia and now the Neapolitan camorra) to their representations truly engages and challenges the present way of thinking about it. . . . Highly recommended.”


“This book helps to challenge the many clichés written and said about the Mafia. Written with clarity, intelligence, and expertise, it makes us understand the true essence of the Mafia, a crime organization organically linked to power and wealth and which contributed to the survival of social antagonism. Dainotto does a superb job of weaving together the complex history of the Mafia. It is faithfully factual, gripping, prescribed reading.” 

Antonio Nicaso, author of "Bloodlines and Angels, Mobsters and Narco-Terrorists: The Rising Menace of Global Criminal Empires"

Table of Contents

One: Of Rustic Knights and Godfathers: The Origins of the Mafia
Two: From Corleone to Hollywood
Three: The Far West is Here
Four: The Godfather
Five: Prime Time
Six: Avatars
Photo Acknowledgements

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