San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
Full title: Mafia Republic: Democracy, Prosperity & Organised Crime in Italy from 1946 to the Present Day
In his new book 'Mafia Republic', John Dickie traces a parallel history of Italy's three major criminal organisations - the Sicilian mafia, the Neapolitan camorra, and the Calabrian 'ndrangheta - from the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946, right up to today's epoch-making investigations into the 'ndrangheta.
When Italy emerged from the traumas of the Second World War, the mafias were widely regarded as a product of poverty and backwardness that would disappear as the country grew. Yet organised crime had already built itself into the Cold War political settlement, and would soon establish a strategic grasp on some of the most important sectors of the economy, both lawful and illegal.
Four key businesses saw the mafias grow vastly richer: construction, tobacco-smuggling, kidnapping, and narcotics. The mafias implemented changes to their own structures and traditions to handle the effects of this burgeoning wealth; they became more integrated, one with another; new mafias were created in regions hitherto immune to the problem; and the historical mafias spread to the north.
By the 1980s, the mafias had become so powerful that much of the South of the country risked becoming a narco-region. The staggering violence of that period culminated in the murders of magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. Since 1992, Italy's police and magistracy have achieved unprecedented successes against the bosses.
Nevertheless, profound political weakness and deeply-rooted corruption constantly hobble the country's efforts to beat the mafias, and indeed threaten to drag it back into an ignominious past.