Reviews in Brief: Deconstructing Organized Crime: a historical and theoretical study, by Joseph L. Albini and Jeffrey Scott McIllwain

Espresso-sized book reviews for readers on the go.


Deconstructing Organized Crime: a historical and theoretical study, by Joseph L. Albini and Jeffrey Scott McIllwain offers a fascinating look into how organized crime is prosecuted and defined in a post-9/11 world. Despite being an academic text aimed at those in law enforcement studies, the book is highly readable. Deconstructing opens with an in-depth analysis of what it terms “the Mafia Mystique,” a cultural construct created by the media and politicians to characterize Italian-American organized crime as a massive, nationwide, all-powerful, and secretive cabal. Two Congressional committees were instrumental in creating the Mafia Mystique, the Kefauver Committee (1950-51) and the McClellan Committee (1963). By contrast, Albini and McIllwain depict Italian and Italian-American organized crime as more dependent on patron-client relationships than a secretive heirarchy.

The book also lays out how organized crime operates on a day-to-day basis. It describes the operations of numbers, book making, and illegal gambling. This lays the foundation for their comparative study of law enforcement practices in Russia and Las Vegas. In the latter, since gambling was legalized, organized crime transitioned from gambling to skimming casino earnings. The authors also criticize the heavy-handed tactics of the Las Vegas Black Book strategy. With the public ceremonies originally intended to deter organized criminals, it came off as a sensationalized means to stereotype Italian-Americans as members of a criminal element.

The readability gets temporarily derailed in Albini and McIllwain’s investigation of globalization’s impact on organized crime, the challenge being how to properly describe the process of globalization, since it is a process still in development. After some theoretical groundwork, they proceed into important discussions on organized crime’s links with human trafficking and international terrorism. The latter feeds into their innovative discussion of the “organized crime continuum.” They lay out four broad, occasionally overlapping, categories of organized crime: political-social, mercenary, in-group, and syndicated organized crime.

In the end, the book proves useful for those searching for a more intellectually rigorous approach to organized crime. Make no mistake, this book has a catch-all approach that covers many topics and lacks depth in specific areas. It covers areas like Colombia, the former Soviet Union, and the United States, but can be a handy resource when reading about Sri Lanka’s battle with the Tamil Tigers, an organization that encompassed both political and criminal elements. The book succeeds, not in denying that organized crime exists, but in how one perceives criminal behavior.

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