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216 × 138 × 18 mm
240 pages
25 illustrations
10 Sep 2018

The Mafia A Cultural History Roberto M. Dainotto

What makes Tony Soprano so likeable? Why would we rather leave the cannoli and take the gun? Do we truly want Scarface’s Tony Montana to succeed? Is Michael Corleone a misunderstood hero or a despicable villain?

In The Mafia: A Cultural History, now available in paperback, Roberto M. Dainotto traces the complex and fascinating development of the mafia: its rural beginnings in Western Sicily; its growth into what has been aptly described as a global multinational of crime; and its parallel evolution in music, print and on the big screen. The book probes the tension between the real mafia – its brutal and often violent reality – and how we imagine it to be: a mythical assembly of codes of honour, family values and chivalric masochism. Rather than dismissing such mafia stereotypes as untrue, Dainotto sets out to understand what needs and desires, material and psychic longings, are satisfied by our mafia fantasies.

Exploring the rich array of films, books, television, music and even video games portraying and inspired by the mafia, this book offers not only a social, economic and political history of the mafia but a new way of understanding our enduring fascination with what lurks behind the sinister omertà of the family business.

‘Dainottos 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 intellectuals historically informed yet personal perspective on the enduring appeal of organized crime stories.’ — PopMatters

‘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. Dainottos 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.’ — Choice

‘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

‘Fascination with the Mafia is something Roberto M Dainotto digs into in this enjoyable and informative read. We are drawn to the traditions and history, while frightened by its brutality and ruthlessness . . . 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 US. 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.’ — The Irish Times

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Born in Sicily, Roberto M. Dainotto is Professor of Romance Studies and of Literature at Duke University, North Carolina, and author of Europe (in Theory) (2007).


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