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Organized Crime and American Power: A History

by Michael Woodiwiss

The process of deconstructing popular myths is a thankless task often met with wide public resistance. Luckily Michael Woodiwiss has risen to the task with an accessible analysis of the ways in which concepts like the Mafia and organized crime have served to divert attention from far more serious organized crimes of U.S.
governments and corporations. His conclusion that “those with power, influence and respectability … have tended to organize crime more successfully and securely than those without” is solidly established.
Through clear analysis and judicious use of historical anecdote and documents, Woodiwiss demonstrates how the activities most associated with organized crime – drug-running, racketeering, money laundering, assassination, bribery – are in fact far more epidemic in the mainstream American economic system than in the small pockets of street gangs and crime syndicates. If anything, he argues, the activities of mafia-like groups actually complement the system of corruption that police, courts, politicians, lawyers, stock brokers, and accountants already profit from.
Woodiwiss also shows how the importance of mob figures like Al Capone and concepts like the war on drugs have been blown out of proportion in order to secure funding for the FBI and to expand state powers of surveillance and arrest as a means of cracking down on legitimate dissent. He broadens his focus to demonstrate how standard histories of organized crime usually leave out examples of groups that should rightly fall under that category, whether it be the Ku Klux Klan, the use of private security thugs to suppress labour unions, or the corporate lobby to eliminate health and safety workplace regulations. By doing so, Woodwiss unfailingly uncovers the crimes of the powerful, whether they originate in state mansions or dingy saloons.


Reviewer: Matthew Behrens

Publisher: University of Toronto Press


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 438 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-8020-8278-5

Issue Date: 2001-11

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs

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