Category Archives: Journal
Fourteen years have passed since the United States military invaded the nation of Iraq and deposed its former ruler Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush had declared Iraq America’s number one enemy and vowed to remove Hussein from power. Hussein fled but was captured in December, 1993 and eventually executed for his crimes against his own people. For many Iraqis and Americans, his death was long overdue and they bid farewell to one of history’s worst dictators. Critics of the war remain and remind us that our military is still in Iraq and no clear permanent solution to establish true democracy is in place. The war is as controversial as those that precede it. But for the men and women that served in the war, their stories are often unnoticed. However in this phenomenal story, Evan Wright brings their story to light for the world to see what warfare was like for thousands of troops. In March, 2003, he accompanied the First Reconnaissance Battalion as the invasion begins. The group becomes known as First Recon and is tasked with clearing town after town until the Iraqi army capitulates. Baghdad eventually falls, Hussein escapes and the marines have done their job for the time being. America celebrates and Bush stands stoically as the armed forces once again succeed. The infantry soldiers return to civilian life or choose to remain enlisted. Their stories fade in time and their names are often never heard of by the mainstream public. But just who are these brave souls and why do they voluntarily put their lives on the line? Wright explores this and more in the book that became a New York Times Bestseller and inspired the HBO hit series of the same name.
I forewarn those readers looking for a feel good story to stop before they purchase the book. There is no glorification of war in this story, this is the life of a grunt and all of the ugliness that comes with it. The Marines are quite young, most of them under twenty-five years of age. But they are hardened and they are seasoned with one command, to kill whatever is hostile. Readers that dislike profanity or crude talk might do well to prepare ahead of time for the dialogue contained within the pages of the book. They’re Marines in a foreign land embroiled in a deadly conflict. Pleasantries sometimes go out of the window. To Iraqi troops and foreigners who have come to Iraq to fight the Americans, the Marines are a mass of invaders and nothing more. But as we travel with the group next to Wright, we learn their stories and talk to each man to get his view on the war and his own life. Their stories are fascinating and as we get to know them, we come to like them more and more and nervously wait until each battle is over, hoping that there have been no casualties. Sadly, there are casualties in the book but that is a part of war.
The saying that war is hell is entirely appropriate throughout the book. As I read through it I found myself having enormous empathy for the Iraqi civilians that the group encounters. Some of them are severely or fatally wounded and others are mentally unbalanced because of the sudden invasion. Their loved ones, land and animals are destroyed by American weapons but yet they truly believe in the removal of Saddam. Their ability to continue even in the face of crippling adversity is beyond admirable. The deaths of the civilians and their deplorable conditions affect the Marines and we see how each one wages his own personal battle knowing that his actions and those of his fellow soldiers have permanent effects on their lives. Sgt. Brad Colbert is the most recognizable and plays a prominent role in the book. In him particularly, Jung’s concept of the duality of man is put on display. He is joined by other Marines whom we meet one by one as the story progresses.
If he were alive today, I think Gustav Hasford (1947-1993) would be proud to read Generation Kill. In fact, there are times in the book where I am reminded of his classic The Short Timers, the book that served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s (1928-1999) Full Metal Jacket (Warner Brothers, 1987). Cowboy, Joker and Animal Mother would be in awe of Espera, Gunny and Manimal. The war is different but the Marines are the tough lot of characters they are expected to be. The battle scenes in Nasiriyah, Al Gharraf and Al Muwaffaqiyah are vivid and pull the reader in refusing to let go. I have never been in active combat but as I read the book, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up each time the platoon reaches a new destination, unknown to them and potentially a kill zone. Incredibly, the men perform as if on cue even as they are under heavy fire. I cannot say enough about the courage they display in this book. And regardless of personal opinions readers may have about the war, the efforts of the soldiers and conditions under which they exist, deserved our full support and understanding. Wright has done a great service to these Marines and the many others that have proudly put their lives on the line in defense of the United States.
Today it is hard to imagine that less than fifty years ago, New York City was once considered one of the most dangerous cities in America. Rising crime, poverty, budgetary mismanagement and police corruption combined to turn the Big Apple into a city that took more than it gave. The New York City Police Department was tasked with maintaining order in the concrete jungle in the face of budget cuts and incredibly layoffs in the late 1970s. The officers who survived those dark years carry with them endless memories about their time on the streets of New York City. Tom Walker, who retired in 2004, spent several years of his career at the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx, nicknamed by the officers as “Fort Apache”. The name sounds heroic but as we learn in the book, it was for darker and more tragic reasons that the station was referred to as a fort. Outside the walls of the precinct existed a world that bordered on the surreal and gave a glimpse into what hell must really be like.
The story begins as Walker is a newly appointed Lieutenant assigned to the 41st Precinct or simply, “The Four One”. On his very first day, he quickly learns that his new home is anything but welcoming. He is instantly introduced to the infamous Fox Street and its surrounding walkways that prove to be nothing short of deadly. Readers who are natives of New York and remember the era in which this book was written, will recall the sense of disparity and anger that consumed many of New York City’s poorest residents. Walker addresses this in the book and clearly shows the link between poverty and crime. And the scenes that he describes throughout the book reinforce that lack of hope that often consumes the ghetto. While many of the officers finish their shifts and go home to the suburbs, the residents of the Four One could not leave, reliving a nightmare every day of their lives. As a former resident of East New York, Brooklyn, I can relate to Walker and the people of the South Bronx for my own neighborhood resembled the Four One except that for us it was the Seven-Five.
After finishing the book, I asked myself how Walker was able to do that job with a wife and five children at home? The constant threat of death on every shift and the traumatic experiences placed upon the officers could have doomed his marriage or taken his life. Yet he perseveres through the book and even talks briefly about the struggle that some cops face in maintaining a health marriage. What is evidently clear is that to be a New York City Police Officer during that time was literally gambling with your life. Today the streets of New York City are much safer although the threat of death still exists albeit on a much lower scale of risk. The City has a stable budget and the department has consistently filled its rank adding more officers to patrol the streets. In hindsight it seems nearly criminal that the Four One was understaffed, under-supplied and even neglected by higher-ups in the chain of NYPD command. Sadly, there are several instances in the book where there are no cars available to respond to police dispatches.
Many years have passed since the book was published in 1976 and the South Bronx has undergone a dramatic transformation. Fox Street and Southern Boulevard have been improved and no longer look as if they’ve been hit by an explosive device. The gangs such as the Savage Nomads are lone gone and only live in the memories of others. Some of the residents are undoubtedly still there advanced in their years but others have moved on in life leaving the Bronx behind. And other officers, like Walker, have since retired and moved on with their lives. But they all share a bond from the time they spent in and around Fort Apache. Walker’s story is an interesting step back into time and an invaluable account of the darker times in New York City history.
Trumped! The Inside story of The Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall-John R. O’Donnell with James Rutherford
On October 10, 2016, the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, closed its doors after 21 years in business and just hours after the second debate in the 2016 presidential race. The casino was the vision of Donald J. Trump that became a reality. At the time it opened, it was the largest casino in Atlantic City and rivaled the highlights of the Las Vegas Strip. Its closing closed another chapter in the sad history of Atlantic City, the coastal town that was once the gambling mecca of the east coast of the United States and home to many of the greatest boxing events during the 1980s. Today, the town is a remnant of its former self. Several well-known casinos closed years ago never to be replaced resulting in large sections of Atlantic City having no structures in place at all. The life that was once the backbone is now gone having been replaced by a feeling of dread and desertion. Only time will tell what will happen to the struggling city and it remains to be seen if the current president will do anything to help the place in which he earned and lost millions of dollars.
As a kid, I always looked forward to the times when my grandmother and mother would take my brother and I on a multi-day stay at Bally’s on the boardwalk. Only a little over two hours from New York City, Atlantic City was a top destination for many people in New York, northern New Jersey and other parts of the tri-state area. It also attracted millionaires, billionaires and scores of celebrities. To be honest, I never saw Donald Trump there and as a kid, he was the last thing going through my mind. But I did walk past the Taj Mahal and stand in awe of its size. To think that it is no longer a functional part of the famed boardwalk is both heartbreaking and a sad reality of the repercussions of financial mismanagement. And for the reader to understand how and why Atlantic City has been on the decline, it is necessary to revisit the actions of one of its greatest and worst entrepreneurs. John R. O’Donnell worked for the Trump Organization for three years before handing in his resignation. In 1991, this book was released to the public and re-released in 2016 as Trump began to focus his efforts to win the oval office.
From the cover of the book it is hard to get an idea of what the book is about. This is not a biography of Trump. O’Donnell does provide some biographical information but it is brief and in no way critical to the story being told. This book is strictly about the casinos in Atlantic City under Trump’s control and O’Donnell’s experiences while working there. There are those who will tempted to write off the book as an attempt to defame Trump’s character and cast judgment on his ability to lead the country. I disagree. O’Donnell never says he hates Trump but only reports what he saw , heard and observed while running Trump’s casinos. In fact, O’Donnell primarily worked at the Trump Plaza but also gets dragged into the debacle that became the Taj Mahal. He enjoyed his work but found himself not enjoying his environment and his decision to leave clearly reflects this. But even as he resigns he does not go out of his way to bury Trump in the book.
No one can deny that Donald Trump has had success in the financial industry. His name has been attached to some of the biggest projects we have seen in the last 30 years. But the truth about his involvement in those affairs and how much he really did do has always remained shrouded in mystery. O’Donnell lifts the veil on some of these things allowing the reader to see what the real Trump is like behind the scenes. And what we see is a businessman who is calculating, cunning, insensitive, unrealistic and ultimately supremely overconfident. At times he is his own worst enemy and his casino empire borders on collapse in only a few short years. His personal life is marked with scandals, infidelity, personal shortcomings and the deaths of several people close to him as acquaintances and business associates. Gossip seekers will not find any smoking guns here but O’Donnell does touch on the Marla Maples situation that helped caused one of the biggest divorces in history between Trump and his then wife Ivanka.
The book almost reads like a tragic play at times with the main character, the emperor, unable to see all that is around him although is eyes are wide open. O’Donnell is the voice of reason throughout the book but in the final analysis, he is resolved to make his exit stage left. Many years have passed since Trump dominated and manipulated Atlantic City. Today he holds the highest office in the nation. But the question remains, has he learned from his days as a casino mogul or will he continue to make the same mistakes and hold on to his beliefs about himself and others that contributed to his prior failings? Further, what will happen to the United States now that he is in office? Time will answer these questions and others that arise and for the voters and readers of this book, only they can decided what type of leader they believe he will be.
For twelve years Evelyn Lincoln served as John F. Kennedy’s devoted secretary. Following Kennedy’s murder she penned a memoir of her time as his assistant under the title “My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy”. As his secretary she was a first hand witness to his daily routine and the decision making process behind some of the biggest moments in American history. The relationship between Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson has been documented in scores of books. But Lincoln’s account is a welcomed look into the unusual relationship between two polar opposite individuals.
It will be expected that Lincoln speaks fondly of her boss. A good secretary becomes an extension of the person that is served listening to their gripes, anticipating their next move and putting the pieces back together again after a major fallout. Lincoln is all of these but that is not the goal of this book. This book is the record of what she saw and heard between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. And what we learn in the book will either confirm what many felt all along or seem like the unsubstantiated ramblings of a secretary in mourning and bitter at the new Commander-In-Chief. In her defense, never in the book does she show a personal vendetta against Johnson. She only reports what she observed during her time with both of these legendary figures.
The book begins before Kennedy is elected to the presidency. In fact, in the early part of the book, he is about to declare his candidacy and gears up for what turned out to be a bitter campaign against Johnson for the Democratic nomination. The animosity and sometimes vindictive methods employed during the primaries made it even more unusual that the two former enemies ended up working together in Washington. But what is clear is that they were never “friends” in any sense of the word. They established a cordial and professional working relationship that was sometimes fragile and tense. Tragically it culminated with the events in Dallas.
Lincoln does shed light on two moments in JFK’s campaign that have been the subject of heavy debate for many years. His decision to accept Johnson as the vice-president caused shock, suspicion and in some cases outrage for Johnson was not liked in many parts of the United States. The often purported story is that Kennedy offered Johnson the nomination believing that he could help pull the southern states which resisted civil rights legislation and were wary of a Irish-Catholic nominee. There is also the belief that Johnson blackmailed his way onto the ticket. What the real reason was for Johnson’s inclusion we will never know for Kennedy took it with him to his grave. But Lincoln does give us enough to see that Johnson’s version of the events leading up to his appointment as vice-president were way off base.
Towards the end of 1963 as Kennedy was preparing for his reelection campaign in 1964, he began to develop a series of agendas that he was determined to accomplish during a second term. The biggest question surrounding his administration was if Johnson would remain on the ticket. Scandals began to surround Johnson through affiliates with the most dangerous being the Bobby Baker debacle. It has been said that Bobby Kennedy had been monitoring the cases building against Johnson who may have possibly landed in jail. Apparently Jack had told him they would speak about it when he returned from Dallas. What would have happened if he did return we will never know. But what we do know from Lincoln’s journal is that before he left for Dallas he made it very clear exactly who would be his running mate for 1964. Her admissions which we have no reason to doubt, serve as concrete statement on what was going through Kennedy’s mind in regards to the future of his administration.
The book is only 207 pages but within these pages is a good journal kept by an interesting woman who served one of the greatest political figures this world has ever seen. And in his short time in office, he touched the lives of many including his own secretary who duly devoted twelve years of her life to him.
The story of the continent of Africa is one of the most beautiful and tragic we have ever seen. The mass of land that has been described as the cradle of civilization and home to some of the most beautiful places on earth, has also been subjected to severe colonization resulting in continuing poverty, tribal and cultural division and civil wars that nearly destroyed several countries as millions of people lost their lives before the genocidal campaigns were brought to a halt. The story of Rwanda is largely well-known, from books and even a feature film, ‘Hotel Rwanda’ starring Don Cheadle. Rwanda, however, is not the only country to experience a crisis of that nature and as we learn in this memoir by Ishmael Beah, Sierra Leone also has a dark history of internal conflict which caused the nation to be considered one of the most dangerous places in the world. And even to this day, their dark past continues to remain relevant.
As the British government gradually reduced its presence in the country and a transition government was formed, Sierra Leone began the first of many critical phases in the country’s history. First ruled by the Sierra Leone People’s Party, several coups would occur to bring instability to the nation and long simmering tensions rise to the surface with the deadly actions launched by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1991. The conflict continued for another 11 years before ending in 2002. During the conflict, the RUF and the Sierra Leone army both recruited children to participate in the battles. Pumped up on a combination of narcotics and brainwashed by the rhetoric of their leaders, the children became killing machines with severe drug addictions. And such is the story of Ishmael, a young boy from a small village known as Mattru Jong, one of many towns destroyed by the RUF soldiers. Forever separated from his mother, father and older brother, he is left with no choice but to join the many other kids left homeless and without family as the rebels continued on their path of destruction. As we follow Ishmael, the gritty reality of the conflict is brought home as he recounts his memories of cheating death, witnesses death, indoctrination as a child soldier and his actions as a drug-riddled and fearless killer.
Aeschylus once wrote that in war, truth is the first casualty. Many of the young boys fighting in the war found themselves caught in a battle with no clear lines defined at some points. Marijuana, cocaine, fatigue and violence began to dull their senses, turning them into the efficient killers that were needed to carry out the most horrific acts. And as we see later in the book, the nightmares and visions never left them and continued to plague them throughout life as they suffered from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder. Their movement closer to the capital of Freetown, marked a sudden change in their lives, a change which many of them were not prepared to handle. Beah’s slow transformation from child killer to eventual speaker at the United Nations in New York City is nothing short of miraculous and highlights the monumental effort needed to transform these former soldiers into young boys again so that they may have a close to a normal life as possible. To those who are natives of the west in first-world nations, his life will seem surreal as it is hard for many of us to fathom such events could have taken place, but the reality is that in some parts of this earth, many children are robbed of their innocence and genocide is a stark reality. From the Hitler Youth, Rwanda and even the Vietnam War, the youth has always been a focal point of resistance and used as pawns to spread the propaganda endorsed by the forces behind them.
Today, the war is many years behind him but the memories and physical scars remain. Beah lives in New York City and is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee. He has told his story on numerous occasions and given us this gift which reminds us of the importance of history for if we do not know it, we are bound to repeat it.
October 8, 2017 will mark 50 years since Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in the jungles of Bolivia as he attempted to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. The legendary and iconic symbol for revolution around the world became a martyr in the process and to this day, his image can be found on posters, hats, shirts and even coffee mugs. His final campaign to bring revolution to Bolivia and the tragic fate that awaited him is one of the defining stories of the 20th century. Guevara, the razor-sharp Argentine intellectual, posed a threat to the dominance of imperialism throughout Latin America and in particular was a deadly threat to the business interests of United States businessmen. His death brings a sigh of relief to many governments around the world and deals a devastating blow the Castro regime in Cuba. Che, although no longer legally a citizen of Cuba at that point, is finally returned home 30 years after his death, when he is returned with several other revolutionaries in 1997 and buried in Santa Clara.
Che was known to be meticulous at taking notes and the hundreds of pages of notes he took during the Cuban Revolution and his time in Congo have both been turned into books. This is the authorized collection of the journal entries he made during this last campaign. Some of the notes have been withheld by the Bolivian government for unknown reasons but the majority of Che’s notes have survived and are included here. Introductions by Fidel Castro and Che’s oldest son Camilo are also included, giving the book a more sentimental feeling. In comparison to his prior journals, the notes here are small in number but in them we are able to see the difficulties faced by Che and his entourage as they try to replicated the success in Cuba. Malaria, edema of the extremities, famine, distrust and various other conditions and ailments plague the group from the start decreasing the chances of success. But in the face of adversity, Che continues as the master organizer focused on his goal to spread revolution throughout the continent.
Huey P. Newton once said that the first thing a revolutionary must understand is that he is doomed from the start. Che’s mission in Bolivia bore the markings of one of impending doom, but his commitment to his unwavering goal of eradicating imperialism, compelled him to push forward in spite of dire warnings. Towards the end of the campaign, he acknowledges the horrendous condition the group is in but we can only speculate as to what thoughts went through his mind as he awaited his fate at the hands of the Bolivian Army and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He left behind a former wife, widow and five children. His widow Aleida, son Camilo and second daughter Aleida Guevara March have carried on his legacy. His writings and speeches will continue to remain with us as an example of one of the world’s sharpest minds gone far too soon. But although he is gone, left behind journals such as this that give us a glimpse into the most critical moments of his life.
August 21, 1971 – George Jackson is shot and killed at San Quentin Prison. He was convicted in 1961 of stealing seventy dollars from a gas station and sentenced to one year to life. At the time of his death he had been incarcerated for ten years. And as an outspoken member of the Black Panther Party and supporter of Marxist ideology, he became a embroiled in controversy. To this day the circumstances surrounding his death remain shrouded in mystery. It was alleged that Jackson had a firearm in his possession but how or when he obtained the gun has never been established. While incarcerated, he began to record his thoughts keeping a journal and writing letters to his family members. ‘Soledad Brother’ is the collection of the surviving letters to his family, friends and acquaintances. A foreword is provided by his nephew Jonathan Jackson, Jr. , whose father Jonathan met his own tragic fate when he was shot and killed on August 7, 1970 in a shootout with authorities during a foiled attempt to force the release of George and two co-defendants. The group was known as the Soledad Brothers and had been charged with the murder of prison guard John Vincent Mills. Also killed in foiled the attempt was Marin County Judge Harold Haley. While it has never been proven that George was involved in the deaths of the guard or Judge Haley, his name is forever linked to their deaths. And during the trial of Angela Davis several years later, their correspondence became the center of the case and helped Davis win her acquittal.
The beauty of the book is the mind of Jackson on full display for the reader. While incarcerated his sharpened his mind and pen through deep analytical thought and extensive writing. Had he not been in San Quentin, he very well could have walked alongside Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. The tragedy of George Jackson is the surreal jail sentence for such a petty crime and his untimely death that has never fully been explained. The youths of today have no idea who Jackson is and most will never read this book. Over time he has been forgotten by students of the civil rights movement and even those committed to prison reform. His life and death are a textbook example of the systematic discrimination that has ended the lives of thousands of young African-American men. There are hundreds of thousands of prisoners in prison today convicted on flimsy evidence and given overly harsh sentences in a criminal justice system that suffers from the bias of those tasked with upholding the blindness of justice.
At first Jackson might come off as angry or even charged. But is necessary to remember the social and political climate in which he lived and died. His letters are filled with his thoughts on the prison system, the civil rights movement and the relationships with his family members in particular his father. In his letter Jackson admits to his faults and its evidently clear that in his life he has acted on some occasions with blatant disregard for himself and others and without a clear mind. He was no angel but far from the demon that he was once portrayed to be. As he found his voice, he became an outlet for the rising anger and frustration of Black Americans and in his writings, he accurately relays the mindset that many of his peers began to develop. And if he had lived, I believe that he would have written books and given speeches about the reality of prison and the movement for civil rights.
This book is a forgotten gem that should be added to the library of the many books of the struggle for civil rights in America. Jackson is either loved or hated but his words are accurate and necessary in the process of reformation to correct the horrors of discrimination. For those who want to know more about this controversial and enlightening figure, this is the place to start.
Fifty-six years have passed since Fidel Castro and his guerrilla army overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and liberated the island from the grip of United States control. Accompanied by his younger brother Raul and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, he marched triumphantly through the streets of Havana declaring a new Cuba. In 1955 Guevara met Fidel and Raul in Mexico City in 1955 and enlisted his services in the revolution that is still the topic of debate and the cause of strain between Cuba and the United States. As the new government was instituted, Guevara served as the island’s Finance Minister, President of the National Bank and chief judge at La Cabana prison. He was a complex character who filled a myriad of roles and strictly devoted to his communist ideology. He was a meticulous note taker and kept many journals of his experiences. In this book are his memories of the Guerrilla campaign and triumph.
In 1953, Che graduated from medical school earning his doctorate degree. His fame will always be him time in Cuba but it should not be forgotten that he was an excellent author with a sharp literary mind and of deep analytical skill. His classic Guerrilla Warfare, is the textbook for revolutionary warfare against a stronger and more intimidating opponent. His speeches about U.S. foreign policy and the state of Cuba have been composed into the short but insightful Che Guevara Speaks. Each book is phenomenal in its own right and recommended reading for students of the revolution and Guevara himself.
Che once said that “at the risk of sounding ridiculous, a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love”. Love comes in many different forms and for Che, that meant commitment to ideology at the cost of personal sacrifice. But never did he waver in his beliefs and as he explains in the book, the cause was not without problems or hardship and in some cases, extreme violence combined with executive decisions. He was assigned the doctor of the group and eventually given his own command of troops. His efforts in the city of Santa Clara which proved to be the final nail in Batista’s coffin are well known. What is not often mentioned, is the day to day of the guerrilla fighters in the jungles of Cuba. For some it may be hard to imagine a war taking place in a country so small but for Castro and his band of bearded figures, it was a matter of the survival of the nation. As Fidel made decisions and the group of men plotted their fates, Che was there taking notes that are presented here to shine light on the struggle that was their daily lives.
Food rations, discipline, medical conditions and political factors all come into play making the life of the guerrilla a daily struggle between life and death. Treasons and famine proved to be severe threats to the mission, recurring repeatedly throughout the book. But in spite of both, Castro is successful and through Che we see how and why that was so. Towards the end of the book are extras by the publisher and they consist of Che’s letters to Fidel, his parents and many others. Also included is Che’s eulogy on the death of his close friend and revolutionary icon, Camilo Cinfuegos. The letters are a joy to read and I am sure that there were plenty others that have never been published that Che wrote. The tragedy of his death in October, 1967 is that he left behind a widow, children and deprived us from other great books that I am sure he would have written throughout his life. But it is our fortune that he left us with these writings and many others during his time on earth.
August 12, 1982-The body of Dominic “Sonny Black” Napolitano is found at the corner of South Street and Bridge Avenue in the Arlington section of Staten Island, New York. Napolitano had been summoned to a meeting on August 17, 1981 at the Flatlands home of Ron Filocomo to discuss recent developments surrounding the revelation that former associate Donnie Brasco was an undercover agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the bureau is known as Joseph D. Pistone. Pistone had infiltrated the Bonnano crime family by posing as a fencer of stolen jewelry. He worked undercover for five years. The operation was suspended when it was learned that Pistone had been asked to take part in a murder which would have resulted in him becoming a made member of the crime family.
This New York Times bestseller is Pistone’s memoir of the five dangerous years he spent with the members of the Bonnano crime family. Playing a cat and mouse game, he moves back and forth between the mafia and government circles carefully taking measures to hide his real identity and assigned task. The family is filled with hardened gangsters and murderers making each move a carefully calculated risk. Falling under the tutelage of Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero, Brasco quickly becomes ingrained into the mafia way of life. And through his eyes and ears, we witness the dysfunctional relationships that define the mafia and their families. Pistone’s developing relationship with Ruggiero, whom he wanted to save from what he believed to be a certain death, is one of the book’s saddest moments. Ruggiero survived the fallout and served time in jail before dying of cancer in 1994. Pistone has appeared in specials and on television to re-tell his story about his time in the Bonnano crime family.
Hollywood took an interest in Pistone’s story and in 1997, the film “Donnie Brasco” was relased. Johnny Depp stars as Piston with Al Pacino assuming the role of Lefty and Michael Madsen as Sonny Black. Pacino was awarded for best actor by the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for his portrayal of Ruggiero. The film is very close to the book and Depp and Pacino turn in great performances. It is a New York City film classic about life in the the five families. If you enjoy this film then the book is a must read.