This is a study on the notorious criminal organisation the Sicilian Mafia – Cosa Nostra – Over the years, Cosa Nostra has become an alternative source of political power in Southern Italian island. The reach of this criminal organisation has spread its tentacles across the globe, becoming a feared and respected multinational criminal organisation. From more humble roots in dealing with cattle rustling, the Cosa Nostra moved into more traditional mafia activities such as protection rackets and later made very heavy profits in drug smuggling. The Cosa Nostra is a difficult theme to research due to the clandestine nature of its activities. It is a secret brotherhood and we learn of its hierarchy and organisation plus its almost religious like entry rituals. It can be bloodthirsty and strict and its internal discipline is its means of maintaining its power. It is in effect a tandem organisation to State power in Italy and its members. even on the run – are able to live clandestinely with few problems. The links between Cosa Nostra and the American Mafia was interesting – Joe Bananas a figure that bridged the gap between both worlds. The two mafia wars of the Twentieth century were bloody and Cosa Nostra resorted to terrorism in its fight amongst itself and also with the state. There has been a very damaging emergence of Pentiti who are whistleblowers who reveal to the authorities the crimes of former colleagues in exchange for immunity or freedom. The Cosa Nostra was brought to the brink of destruction by some of these treacherous characters. The Maxi-Trial led by antimafia judges such as Falcone caused much devastation and meant a change in strategy, leadership and tactics. Falcone ended up suffering a gruesome death, a fate shared by very many enemies of Cosa Nostra. It was interesting seeing some of the dirty political dealings that many leading Italian political figures have with Cosa Nostra, including well known long term President Silvio Berlusconi. The research for this book was often second hand, relying on preceding authors and also details could often be fussy due to a lot of the knowledge of structure of the organisation and its activities come from Pentiti who often are less than reliable sources due to their own bias. I felt that it was an interesting and enlightening study although towards the end of the book the author’s clear antimafia stance became a little annoying as I felt could have been more subjective and perhaps focussed too much on the Crime aspect of Cosa Nostra and lacked respect in terms of seeing it as a perhaps positive force in much of what it does.
This book is a nice, concise look at the Spanish Civil War. I used it for revision purposes, to remind myself of some of the details of heavier tomes that I have encountered on this subject. The author’s analysis of the causes of the War are precise and factual, without noticeable bias. The account of the war itself focuses on the political changes and has an underlying reasoned account of why events transpired and their implications on the outcome of the wider conflict. There is an inevitable tragedy to the Spanish Republic, with bitter infighting plaguing all their attempts at retaining democracy. The lurch to the left from within is seen as an inevitable result of the lack of full international support and the Republicans’ heavy reliance on Soviet Aid. Franco’s luck and expert conciliation of his own individual powers can be seen as gifted by not only the over Italian and German military aid but also the insistence on non-intervention by the Allied powers of Britain and France. The different policies of either side, especially in relation to the peasants and working classes and the depth of internal conflict and terror is a shock to any reader’s system. This book covers the principal details of the gruesome conflict that was the Spanish Civil War very well and is a good guide to the key events and a nice summary of the causes, conflict and its outcomes.
The Albanians: A Modern History by Miranda Vickers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Albania is one of those countries that have a colourful history and is a place that was a bit of an anomaly to me. I know that it is publicly perceived as a poor backwater of Eastern Europe but I wanted to read this well-written book to glean further information. After the fall of the Ottomans in the Balkans, Albania came into being as an independent entity. This came out of the back of several Balkan conflicts. The Albanians are one of the rainbow of ethnic tribes in the region, with their own language, culture and religions. The new country was plunged into a period of turmoil, facing the brunt of two world wars as it attempted to establish itself. The ancient ways of Ottoman times left a great deal of difficulty for any ruling power to modernise and Albania seemed destined to become isolated and a haven for political extremes, reaching a zenith under the charismatic tutelage of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. His forty year rule paved the way for Albania to develop in its own unique way, relying at different times on the patronage of Russia, China, Yugoslavia and Italy. With the fall of communism in the modern era, a new democratic age was heralded, though the much anticipated improvements were not quite so instant with the country facing many political crises, the collapse of pyramidal banking schemes, the rise of organised crime and ongoing disputes about the ethnic Albanians in neighbouring countries. I found this book particularly enlightening in helping me to understand the Kosovo situation and all that it entails. As we move into the twenty-first century Albania holds Kosovo’s hand and makes inroads into its own emergence as a balkan power. It is now a member of NATO and has high hopes of full EU accession. The region is an interesting one and to understand Albania and its peoples this book is heralded as the cornerstone text for English-speakers.
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