From bootleg booze to border-crossing drug mules, organized crime has fascinated people for over a century. Whether you’re after a biographical view of a particular crime family or want an escape into a fictional world of action and betrayal, we have ten recommendations for you. Here are the ten best books about organized crime:
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Following the Corleone mafia family, The Godfather tells of brutal fighting between post-war New York’s five families. Mario Puzo’s fictional depiction of mafia life sets the stage for how all organized crime would be written in the decades that followed.
Easy Money by Jens Lapidus
Easy Money is the first book in the Stockholm Noir trilogy by Swedish author Jens Lapidus. It follows a young man from the countryside, JW, moving to Stockholm, as he lives well above his means. To fund his lifestyle, JW drives an illegal taxi, but is one day approached by a more lucrative offer of selling cocaine. This brings him to the criminal underbelly of Stockholm and puts him on the path of the Yugoslav mafia.
Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
Crime reporter turned author Nicholas Pileggi tells the story of Henry Hill, the mobster who helped FBI bring more than 50 charges against his former boss. Wiseguy is a true crime story about Hill’s life in the mafia family. The book was turned into the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas in 1990.
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
The Power of the Dog delves into the world of Mexican drug cartels and their influence on society, politics, and law enforcement. Don Winslow describes DEA agent Art Keller, who discovers just how deep the cartel influence goes when he tries to avenge his colleague, who was killed by the cartel in Mexico. It is the first book in the Cartel trilogy.
Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano
Investigative journalist Roberto Saviano went undercover in the Neapolitan mafia family Camorra and uncovered corruption all the way up to the government level. He claimed this corruption brought the region an economic system where there are no investments, opportunities, education or jobs. Gomorrah has been described by critics as a “new Italian epic” and a new “Unidentified Narrative Object.”
City of God by Paulo Lins
Brazillian author Paulo Lins writes about his time growing up in the favela (poor town) Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Western Rio de Janeiro. The city is renowned for two things: its natural beauty and its rampant crime. City of God tells of three decades in the lives of a gang, going from hold-ups in the early 60s to become organized drug lords by the early 80s.
Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone
Former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone’s autobiography Donnie Brasco is about his time as an undercover agent within the Colombo crime family, going under the assumed identity of Donald Brasco, expert jewel thief.
Through Brasco, Pistone managed to bring over 100 convictions, and now lives under witness protection with his family at an undisclosed location.
Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson
Lionel Davidson took a 16-year long hiatus from writing thrillers, until he published Kolymsky Heights in 1994. The novel tells the story of Johnny Porter, a Canadian code breaker, who receives a message from a scientist deep in Siberia. Porter goes undercover as a Chukchi (Siberian indigenous) driver and infiltrates the Russian organisation the scientist had been working for.
Kolymsky Heights has been praised for its portrayal of the indigenous peoples of Canada and Siberia, who are often underrepresented in fiction.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
Set in Mumbai, India, Sacred Games explores the city’s criminal underworld, political corruption, and the intertwined lives of a police officer and a gangster. A cynical Bombay detective, Sartaj Singh, receives an anonymous tip that promises a chance to capture a powerful criminal boss named Ganesh Gaitonde. The two get locked in a game of tactics as both discover their chess-like moves are just a tiny part in a bigger play, one that could affect the whole planet.
Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
Based on a true story, Tokyo Vice is a memoir that explores the author’s experiences as a journalist covering the Yakuza, Japan’s notorious organized crime syndicate. Jake Adelstein was the first American journalist to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, an organisation centred around covering crime reporting in the nation capitol. One of the reports Adelstein was involved in exposed a scandal that implicated more than just the Yakuza; it went all the way back to America and the FBI.
These were our favourite books about organized crime. Do you agree with our list? Do you have any suggestions for other books? Comment below and let us know!