Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie

Cosa Nostra John Dickie

Rating: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Two stories, two days in May, separated by a century of history.


Cosa Nostra is the compelling story of the Sicilian mafia, the world’s most famous, most secretive and most misunderstood criminal fraternity. The mafia has been given many names since it was founded one hundred and forty years ago: the Sect, the Brotherhood, the Honoured Society, and now Cosa Nostra. Yet as times have changed, the mafia’s subtle and bloody methods have remained the same. Now, for the first time, “Cosa Nostra” reconstructs the complete history of the Sicilian mafia from its origins to the present day, from the lemon groves and sulphur mines of Sicily, to the streets of Manhattan. “Cosa Nostra” is a definitive history, rich in atmosphere, and with the narrative pace of the best detective fiction, and has been updated to make it the most vital contemporary account of the mafia ever published.


This book tells the history of the Sicilian mafia from its beginnings in the 19th century to the turn of the millenium. Unfortunately, it felt like the focus was on the beginning of the 20th century and I missed more modern developments.

Still, it was a truly fascinating read. For a long time, Cosa Nostra could bank on people pretending it didn’t exist. Sure, there was crime, but people did not believe in an organized group behind it. The excuse most heard was that mafia was not an organized crime syndicate, but instead stood for a certain Sicilian outlook on life.

For ‘mafia’ was widely taken to refer not to an organization, but to a mixture of violent passion and ‘Arabic’ pride that supposedly dictated Sicilian behaviour. ‘Mafia’, as viewed by many, was a primitive notion of honour, a rudimentary code of chivalry obeyed by the backward people of the Sicilian countryside.

It worked for a suprinsingly long time. Despite very early reports on the mafia and people who broke the code of omertà, silence, people just went about coming up with the same old arguments: there’s no mafia, move along.

The mafia of Sicily pursues power and money by cultivating the art of killing people and getting away with it, and by organizing itself in a unique way that combines the attributes of a shadow state, an illegal business, and a sworn secret society like the Freemasons.

It was also interesting (and harrowing) to read about how the cosa nostra inserted itself into politics and public life.

The author also touches briefly on the mafia in the United States and I had to think about The Godfather a lot. Though the US is definitely not the focus of this book, which was good, given the subject.


A fascinating history of the Sicilian mafia.


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