Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quotes from classic organized crime literature coming soon

This blog will consist of passages from scholars representing a host of disciplines (i.e., history, economics, anthropology, sociology, and criminology).  Expect quotes, complete with citations, from scholars like Alan A. Block, Joseph L. Albini, Jay S. Albanese, William J. Chambliss, Mark H. Haller, Dwight C. Smith, Francis A.J. Ianni, Henner Hess, Pino Arlacchi, Peter H. Reuter, Frank Bovenkerk, R.T. Naylor, Philip Jenkins, Gary W. Potter, and others. This will be restricted to published works and thus quotes like this Bovenkerk classic, who was lecturing one of my PSU study abroad classes (at Leiden University in Holland), alas, won't be posted here: "'Good' organized crime is badly organized crime." 

Until I get to posting from the legends, here is a quote from my recent Black Brothers, Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia (Milo, 2005 edition, p.340) that will help explain the challenges facing audiences of organized crime reads:

Much of the literature on organized crime in the United States falls into two all but mutually distinct camps.  One camp consists of very popular, especially readable, books whose credibility is all but impossible to assess because there is no effort made to provide the reader with the sources for the book’s claims.  Many of these books could aptly be labeled “based on a true story”, though they are not identified as such and the reader has no way of determining what is fact and what is fiction.  Often times, these tomes are based exclusively on the words of gangsters and/or law enforcement officials, who are each prone to self-aggrandizing and worse.  In the other camp of literature there resides a wealth of solid, if not sensational, academic books written in a far more technical style - bereft of the non-essentials such as quotes by actors, vivid depictions of historical events, etc.  For the investigative reporter, the historian, and other like-minded researchers, these books are invaluable because the reader can quite easily track down the sources of information used by the author.  Thus, these arbiters of accuracy can replicate the study by assessing the documents for themselves and so on.  Unfortunately, such books can make for dreadful reading, and audiences are therefore commonly left with a losing pair of options when picking an organized crime read: sensational but dubious vs. accurate but lumbering.