Although the Sicilian Mafia is a subject of endless fascination, few serious books have been written about it. In this provocative work, Christopher Duggan argues that the idea of the Sicilian Mafia is a fiction, born of political calculation and genuine misunderstanding of the behavior of Sicilians.
The book consists of two parts. The first looks at the development of the idea of the Mafia from the 1860s, when the term first appeared, to the Second World War. Duggan explains that while all serious observers in Sicily realized that there was no organized criminal society in Sicily, there were several reasons why the idea was perpetuated. One was that when Sicily became part of unified Italy in 1860, hostility to the new state was claimed by officials to be criminally inspired, and they spoke for the first time of 'the Mafia.' From then on, man of Sicily's political and social problems were attributed to this mythical organization. A second reason for a mafia mythology was that Sicilian society had different values from other parts of Italy. Sicilian belief in private justice and their unwillingness to cooperate with the police reinforced the idea of a secret criminal organization.
The second part of the book is a detailed study of the repressive campaign conducted by the fascist government against the Mafia in the 1920s. Making use of private papers, police files, and trial proceedings, Duggan concludes that the Mafia was largely an idea exploited for political ends, and that its use only reinforced the deep mistrust that many Sicilians had of the state. Duggan's book—which is also the first study of the impact of fascism in Sicily—indicates why there was so much hostility to fascism there in the later years of the regime
Duggan’s lively and original book will be of great interest to historians of modern Italy, to anthropologists, and to criminologists, and well as to those who are actively engaged in the fight against organized crime.