The 35 Best Books About Mafia and Gangster of All Time

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The criminal underground is a self-contained world into which we normally do not get a glimpse. If it does, it’s not uncommon for it to be the last thing we see before we’re treated to a new pair of concrete shoes followed by a bath experience. It’s your own fault because if you mess with the mafia, you’ll find yourself in a truly hard place that knows no mercy. Fortunately, however, there is a way to immerse yourself in the world of gangsters and clans without putting yourself in mortal danger – novels and biographical books! Which 35 works are particularly recommendable, we now look at together with you. Enjoy our selection!

1st place: Mario Puzo – The Godfather

The Godfather
Often tried, yet true: “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo is truly a literary offer you can’t refuse. Published in 1969, this masterpiece takes us straight to 1940s New York. The venerable Don Vito Corleone, an immigrant with Sicilian roots, has managed to build one of the most influential mafia families in the city. The ruler’s criminal empire falters, however, when other families make a dastardly assassination attempt on the head of the Corleone family. Now it’s up to Michael and his brothers to avenge their badly injured father and restore the family clan to the top of the city.

“The Godfather” impresses with its multi-layered complexity. The characters are as diverse as they are authentic, and the gripping story of the gangster epic is captivating from the first to the last chapter. Every line of the book tastes of the Mafia through and through, making “The Godfather” an absolute must-read for every fan of the genre. Also, and especially if you are familiar with the no less famous film adaptations of the literary model, it is worth taking a look at the book. Within the novel, we learn a lot of background information about the actors’ mental lives, which naturally cannot be illuminated to the same extent in the cinematic adaptation.

2nd place: Lorenzo Carcaterra – Gangster

Gangster: A Novel (English Edition)
Just like “The Godfather,” Lorenzo Carcaterra’s book “Gangster” takes us into the New York underworld. At the center of the story is one of the biggest mafia bosses the Big Apple has ever seen. But how does a person actually become one of the most feared figures in the parallel criminal world? The novel, which was published in 2003, describes the protagonist Angelo’s life in great detail. When the title character is brutally beaten as a small child, he meets an influential woman from the criminal milieu, who takes the two fighters under her wing from then on. Once the mills of the underworld are set in motion, a path to middle-class life is no longer possible for Angelo.

“Gangster” is captivating thanks to its authentic production, which is brought to us believably in impressive words. A gripping story is driven by the lust for power, personal alienation, and relentless brutality.

3rd place: Susan E. Hinton – The Outsiders

The Outsiders
Not every book that takes brutal gang crime as its subject matter relies on adult protagonists. In “The Outsiders” we witness how even the youngest members of our society go astray – and what fatal consequences this circumstance entails. At the heart of the novel is the bitter feud between two gangs, the penniless Greasers and the wealthy Socs. What begins as a quarrel between teenagers quickly develops into a terrible gang war, which has no regard for losses.

“The Outsiders” by Susan E. Hinton, a teenager herself at the time of her book’s publication, gives us a glimpse into social inequality in the United States in the 1960s. The work of art is frighteningly honest and still has a red-hot character today.

4th place: Roberto Saviano – Gomorrah: Journey into the Realm of the Camorra

Gomorrah: Journey into the Realm of the Camorra
The omertà is one of the most important components of international mafia families. This means that it is strictly forbidden to talk about the internal machinations of the clans or to denounce members of the gang. The one who breaks the Omertà threatens death.

Within his documentary book “Gomorrha: Journey into the realm of the Camorra”, journalist Roberto Saviano defies the dreaded law of silence and describes to us readers the criminal machinations of the southern Italian Camorra down to the smallest detail. In the context of these descriptions, we become aware of how far the arm of the Mafia actually reaches: no matter whether in the fabric trade, in construction projects, or, of course, in the illegal drug business – the criminal network always seems to have its fingers in the pie. The author has put himself in mortal danger with the publication of his book and has been living in an unknown place ever since.

5th place: Nele Neuhaus – Among Sharks

Unter Haien: A gripping thriller by the bestselling author of the Bodenstein-Kirchhoff series (0)
Alex Sontheim seems to have finally reached the goal of her professional dreams. After years of hardship, the young banker has managed to rise to become one of the most influential figures in her field of business. Having arrived in the illustrious circle of powerful New York businessmen, the protagonist meets the fascinating bon vivant Sergio Vitali. The two begin a love affair and Alex enjoys her new life to the fullest. What she does not suspect is that Sergio does not always resort to legal means to defend his won power.

While the novel starts out as a typical romance, it soon becomes clear where the literary journey is actually heading. Instead of tender nights of passion, drug trafficking, blackmail, and even murder are now on the agenda – and that’s exactly how we like it!

6th place: Kai Meyer – Arcadia awakes

Arcadia Awakens: Arcadia 1
When Rosa arrives in Sicily for the first time, she enters a world that is completely alien to her. Everything seems to be as she knows it from old gangster movies. Shortly after the title character, who previously lived in the United States, meets her acquaintance Alessandro, she realizes that the rumors about two competing mafia families in the region have a frightening kernel of truth to them. In fact, the Alcantaras and the Carnevares are an implacable enmity with each other. Since Rosa and Alessandro are members of the two opposing parties, their love is ill-starred from the start. The prelude of the “Arcadia” series represents a successful start of the series, which skillfully interweaves different stylistic elements of different genres.

7th place: John Dickie – Cosa Nostra: The History of the Mafia

Cosa Nostra: The History of the Mafia
Like “Gomorrah: Journey into the Realm of the Camorra,” “Cosa Nostra” by author John Dickie breaks away from romanticized portrayals of the Mafia to instead give us an authentic look into the structures and machinations of the internationally operating clans. In doing so, the author takes a comprehensive look at the history of the Mafia together with his readers and shows how organized crime changed, grew, and gained more and more power over the decades. Particularly frightening is the fact that the Mafia no longer seems to exist as an isolated group alongside the state, but is gradually infiltrating it.

Gripping, honest, revealing – “Cosa Nostra” is an absolute must for any reader interested in the truth behind the myth of the criminal underworld.

8th place: Philip Carlo – Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Killer

Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Killer
According to his own information, Richard Kuklinski has killed more than 200 men during his life. The later notorious killer committed his first murder at the age of 13. Later, Kuklinski, commonly known by the pseudonym “The Iceman,” earned the brutal reputation of being the most feared contract killer in the criminal underworld. In “Ice Man” author Philip Carlo traces the terrifying path of the ruthless enforcer.

Kuklinski’s life story is as disturbing as it is fascinating, and it often makes our blood run cold.

9th place: Petra Reski – Mafia: Of godfathers, pizzerias and false priests

Mafia: Of godfathers, pizzerias and false priests
When we think of the Italian Mafia, powerful families come to mind who once left their Sicilian homeland to subsequently build a gangster empire in the United States of America. What we quickly forget, however, is the fact that the Mafia is sometimes also active in our own Federal Republic. A few years ago, a number of murders in Duisburg, Germany, that were directly linked to the Italian Mafia, caused a sensation. In her book, the author Petra Reski sheds light on how the international networking of criminal organizations actually takes shape. Numerous conversations with former Mafiosi and law enforcement officials show us how complex the structures of the gangs really are. An extremely exciting, interesting work, which illuminates the Mafia from different points of view.

10th place: Andrea Camilleri – M for Mafia

M for Mafia
What good is all the power in the world if you get caught in the end? The hunt for cold-blooded mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano resembled a search in the dark for a long time. Over a period of 40 years, the native Sicilian earned a dubious legend status within the criminal demimonde. For law enforcement, the powerful man was more like a phantom than a real person. The only clue the police had in their search for Provenzano was a photograph from his youth. Hidden in a secluded shed, the Mafioso guided the fortunes of his family for many years. “M for Mafia” shows us the ingenious ways in which a criminal in distress uses while holding on to his power as a man possessed.

11th place: Mahmoud Al-Zein – The Godfather of Berlin: My Way, My Family, My Rules

The Godfather of Berlin: My Way, My Family, My Rules
While in large parts of the world the Italian Mafia is in charge of the underworld, in this country it is mainly Arab extended family clans that are suspected of ruling over the criminal parallel society. One of the most powerful men of our modern times is the self-proclaimed Godfather of Berlin, Mahmoud Al-Zein. The head of the Al-Zein family, who has about 5,000 members, gives us an amazingly honest account. The film shows how the Al-Zein clan, which counts more than 000 members, really operates inside the clan – not without openly expressing his contempt for the impotent state authorities. Especially because of its topical reference, “The Godfather of Berlin” is an exciting tip.

12th place: Jay Dobyns – False Angel: My hellish trip as an undercover agent with the Hells Angels

False Angel: My hellish trip as an undercover agent with the Hells Angels
Within the biker fraternity, there is hardly a club that is more feared than the legendary Hells Angels. The members of the motorcycle gang are especially known for their ruthless actions against hostile groups and are also said to play a central role in numerous drug and red-light districts. US secret agent Jay Dobyns finally achieved the unthinkable: he managed to infiltrate the innermost circle of the Hells Angels. Over a period of two years, the civil servant maintained his façade and meanwhile witnessed numerous atrocities.

In “Falscher Engel,” the undercover investigator opens up about his experiences and tells us about the true horror of the biker gang. In the process, Dobyns also sheds light on his personal emotional rollercoaster ride during the investigation, giving the book an even more authentic flair.

13th place: Thomas Kistner – Fifa Mafia: The dirty business of world football

Fifa-Mafia: The dirty business with the world football
Admittedly, “Fifa-Mafia” by Thomas Kistner is not a gangster book in the classic sense of the word. Nevertheless, the not always legal machinations of the world’s largest sports federation also belong to the realm of organized crime. For a long time, the soccer organization was under suspicion of not always playing honestly. The countless clues that the writer gives us about this in his work show why the association’s reputation has been so damaged in the past.

14th place: Stephan Talty – Black Hand: Hunt for New York’s first Mafia

Black Hand: Hunting New York's First Mafia (suhrkamp taschenbuch)
At the beginning of the 20. At the turn of the twentieth century, the New York Police Department was faced with a previously unimagined phenomenon. Some Italian immigrants had formed large criminal groups and seized the power of the underworld. From then on, the U.S. city was plagued by countless violent crimes, extortion, and murders. To put a stop to the bloodthirsty Mafia activity, the police sent Joseph Petrosino, the first American investigator, who himself came from Italy.

The novel refers within its story to the historically real figure of Joseph Petrosino. A detailed account of the times that will keep you on the edge of your seat for a long time.

15th place: Claudio M. Mancini – La Nera: A Mafia Novel

La Nera: A Mafia Novel
The young Sicilian Sophia seems to have finally found the happiness of her life. After the protagonist had to live her previous years in the most simple circumstances, she enters a carefree world of wealth after marrying the wealthy doctor Giulio. Soon Sophia discovers where her husband’s fortune really comes from. When Giulio is murdered by the Mafia because of his criminal activities, the young widow swears revenge. The novel by Claudio M. Mancini knows how to shine with his coherent tension curve.

16th place: Federico Varese – Mafia Life: Love, Money, and Death in the Heart of Organized Crime

Mafia Life: Love, money and death in the heart of organized crime
Only a few of us know what rites, structures, and laws the Mafia is actually subject to. If you want to get a comprehensive overview of the gears of the criminal organizations on our globe, we recommend you to take a look at “Mafia Life” by Frederico Varese.

Within his work, the author gives us an intimate insight into the innermost circles of various mafia families. The author also illuminates countless individual fates of the criminals and shows what personal effects the everyday life of a Mafioso entails. Thanks to its profound character, the book will be an excellent companion for any reader with a fascination for the ice-cold criminal underworld.

17th place: Roberto Saviano – The Hungry for Life

The Hungry for Life: Novel
The teenage Maraja has the world at his feet. However, since the reality of the teenager’s life is a criminal world, he pursues clearly different goals than comparable people of his age. Already in his younger years, the protagonist got caught in the maelstrom of the criminal demimonde. After the title character’s brother is ruthlessly murdered, it’s now up to the bloody young Maraja to keep the family business going. When a multimillion-dollar cocaine deal threatens to go bad, the rookie gangster is forced to work with an enemy clan. However, Maraja also makes enemies in her own ranks with this move.

In “The Hungry for Life,” Roberto Saviano paints a gripping, yet terrifying picture of the youngest members of the Mafia. The novel is unsparing, harrowing and honest, and resonates in the reader’s mind for a long time to come.

18th place: Don Winslow – Days of the Dead

Days of the Dead: Roman (suhrkamp taschenbuch)
In “Days of the Dead” by Don Winslow we follow the investigator Art Keller, who makes his living by fighting the Mexican drug mafia. After an associate of the law enforcement agency is bestially murdered by some criminals, the protagonist embarks on a personal vendetta. Keller has no idea at the beginning what horror he is conjuring up in the shadow.

Peppered with violence, grief and death, “Days of the Dead” is an absolute must for every inclined reader.

19th place: Antonio Ortuño – The Disappeared

The Disappeared
Don Carlos Flores is an unscrupulous developer who will stop at nothing to make his planned project a reality. In the Mexican city of Guadalajara, the businessman wants to build a luxurious residential complex. The problem: at the moment the region is still occupied by some local residents who refuse to leave their ancestral home. Two families, who had been particularly stubborn in resisting the developer’s efforts, disappear without a trace. The novel by Antonio Ortuño comes with a multi-layered presentation and a successful revenge story.

20th place: Gianrico Carofiglio – Cold Summer: A Case for Maresciallo Fenoglio

Cold Summer: A Case for Maresciallo Fenoglio
In the summer of 1992, two influential prosecutors fall victim to devious assassination attempts by the Mafia. As the gang war in southern Italy continues to escalate, investigator Maresciallo Fenoglio is tasked with uncovering the death of a high-ranking clan member. Thrillingly written and vividly staged, “Cold Summer” is a safe bet for any fan of crime stories set in a Mafia setting.

Ranked 21-35 in the best books about mafia and gangster:

Place: Novel: Author: Link to book:
21. The Sicilian Mario Puzo
22. The Friends of Eddie Coyle George V. Higgins
23. On the precipice of life Graham Greene
24. An American thriller James Ellroy
25. I prefer to kill softly George V. Higgins
26. Into the dark night Jim Thompson
27. The company John Grisham
28. Gangland Howard Linskey
29. I was Jack Falcone: How I broke up a Mafia clan as an FBI undercover agent Joaquin Garcia
30. McMafia: The Boundless World of Organized Crime Misha Glenny
31. Black Mass: The fateful pact between the FBI and Whitey Bulger, one of the most dangerous gangsters in U.S. history Dick Lehr
32. The day of the owl Leonardo Sciascia
33. Red Marble: Aurelio Zen investigates in Tuscany Michael Dibdin
34. The Client John Grisham
35. Billy Bathgate E.L. Doctorow

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