Culture & Literature
LIFE The Mob

LIFE The Mob

LIFE The Mob

The Mob. The Mafia. Organized crime. Call it what you will, but America’s violent underworld has always fascinated us: the colorful criminals, dirty cops, crooked politicians and shady businessmen. It’s a hard and high-stakes world, fueled by profits to be had from gambling, prostitution, extortion, graft, illegal booze and narcotics. Now you can explore the fascinating history of the Mob in America through the lens of this new special edition. Delve into the history of organized crime, the power struggles, the crimes and feats of trigger-happy thugs and political bosses, and even the truth behind the classic film, The Godfather. Explore why the mobster has become a mythic figure in America’s history; why Hollywood has long been compelled to tell the stories; and even how the Mob is evolving in today’s digital age. Striking photographs from throughout the past century combine with sharp biographies to reveal the key players and historical figures who loomed large in the cities and towns across the country and who loom even larger in our minds.

United States
Meredith Corporation
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$20.81(Incl. tax)

in this issue

1 min.
1 the mob in photos

12 min.
2 blood at the roots

THE AMERICAN UNDERWORLD IS AN UNHOLY CREATION, baptized in blood. It began as a survival mechanism, a strategy for staying alive—and thriving—in the New World. Advancement in this world involved two primary elements: physical and economic power. In burgeoning urban jungles, immigrant gangs vied for territory. A system of illegal commerce evolved. The rackets—gambling, prostitution, extortion, graft, and eventually illegal booze and narcotics—were the lubricants that greased the wheel. But what ensured its functioning over more than a century has been violence: for commerce, for revenge, for love. And all in pursuit of the American dream. The underworld first took shape in the mid- to late 19th century, in the muddy slums of lower Manhattan, when the powers that controlled the criminal world and the powers that ran the city became one…

3 min.
the five families

Joe Valachi’s testimony before the Senate included his revealing the identities of the five major New York City families who ruled organized crime across the nation and, in some cases, across national borders. Many of the names were familiar to the FBI, but this was the public’s introduction to La Cosa Nostra’s powerful Five Families, the men who meticulously managed their criminal rackets like legitimate businesses. The Mafia was not always so organized. By 1930, La Cosa Nostra was losing ground to rival organizations as years of deadly infighting decreased and distracted their ranks. Then, in 1931, the Young Turks, a group of ambitious gangsters led by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, stepped in. They ended the Castellammarese War by killing boss Joe Masseria. Rival Salvatore Maranzano then organized the splintered factions into the…

12 min.
the new management

THE FIVE FAMILIES WERE AMONG THE FORTUNATE FEW who weathered the economic storm of the Great Depression. As unemployment approached 25%, the newly minted chairman of the Commission, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, recognized what the weakening economy meant for Prohibition and organized crime’s most lucrative business. “The public won’t buy [Prohibition] no more,” Luciano is reported to have said. “When they ain’t got nothin’ else, they got to have a drink or there’s gonna be trouble.” The depths of the Depression meant the nation’s collective patience for a puritanical law was at an end. The country needed a drink, if only to numb the pain. After a decade of staggering profits as bootleggers, Luciano and the rest of the Commission prepared for the legalization of alcohol. The Mafia doubled its early efforts…

3 min.
secrets of the cosa nostra

The name for the Sicilian Mafia, Cosa Nostra, means “our thing” when translated literally, but the phrase has developed a much deeper subtext. For members, Cosa Nostra is a way of life, an ideology and an identity Though Sicilian-American mobsters who immigrated to the U.S. continued to refer to themselves as Cosa Nostra, the FBI added the “La” in the 1960s, differentiating the American Mafia (La Cosa Nostra, or simply “LCN”) from Sicilian Mafias (Cosa Nostra). The Sicilian Mafia is also separate from its counterparts in Naples (the Camorra), Calabria (the ’Ndrangheta) and Puglia (Sacra Corona Unita). Cosa Nostra developed out of necessity—for centuries, Sicily was a crossroads of many lucrative trade routes and between various warring and exploring factions. Sicilians regularly had to defend their families and their land against invaders,…

10 min.
forced into the spotlight

IN NOVEMBER 1957, MORE THAN 100 TOP AMERICAN Mafiosi from the largest U.S. crime families, as well as high-level representatives from Cuba, converged upon the rural hilltop estate of “Joe the Barber” for a national summit meeting in sleepy Apalachin, N.Y. La Cosa Nostra was not expecting Sergeant Edgar Croswell of the New York State Police to also attend. It was a risky location for such a high-profile meeting: Joseph Barbara Sr., a suspect (but never charged) in three murders, was often under surveillance. But it wasn’t that risky. After all, it was far away from major police centers, burrowed in a remote mountain region that bordered Pennsylvania and was 220 miles from New York City. No one expected a raid in the sleepy upstate town. A string of bad luck…