To continue the Mafia kick I’ve been on lately, I checked out the Mafia subreddit for book recommendations. To a person, the guys on that site thought Mafia Prince, a book I had never heard of, was one of the best, if not THE best read on La Cosa Nostra in the United States.
I thought I had heard of all the major mafia books but this one completely escaped me. I’m sure this is in part because my interest in Mafia tales is more on the sweeping history of the respective families/syndicates and less on its singular operators. A lot of these kind of biography/autobiography/memoir types are guys reminiscing about what tough guys they were, all the women they banged, having a good table at the Copa and then blaming everyone else when it fell apart.
That was the impression I got as well when I started Phil Leonetti’s Mafia Prince. I really just didn’t have much interest in hearing the same stories regurgitated in a different context. But when I went back to the subreddit, folks were insistent: You gotta try this book. So I gave it a second chance and stuck with it.
And yeah, this is definitely one of the best mafia books ever written.
I think in part it’s because Phil Leonetti doesn’t try to glorify his time in the mob. He’s candid about how even the good ol’ days were bad. This is Henry Hill’s Wiseguy (the inspiration for GoodFellas) just more honest and depressing about how awful mafia life is. Having ascended due to his uncle’s meteoric rise to boss of the Philadelphia-Atlantic City mob, he came to hate his uncle for his greed and bloodthirstiness and realized that the entire thrill of LCN that he felt as a kid was nothing more than a crock (the comparison to Santa Claus is apt).
I kind of wish this was the movie that was made instead of Goodfellas. Scorsese has always had an interest on touching on ht glamour of the mob before the inevitable gangsters downfall. Here you learn that it’s just not the case, nor was it ever. It’s an easy to read book; mostly just anecdotes from Leonetti with accompanying context from his co-authors. But I’m not sure anyone not interested in mafia tales would enjoy it. Still, it has to be on a completist’s list.