Reviews of The First Family
'‘A first-rate book… A British historian whose capacity for research appears to be limitless, Dash has dug into tons of material and emerged with a work of popular history - written in lively, lucid prose, with a strong narrative line and a wealth of anecdote, much of it gory - that seems likely to be the definitive work on its subject for years to come.’
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
‘Captivating… convincing… compelling.’
New York Times
‘Up-close, personal, and full of you-are-there detail… Dash is that rarity: a perfectionist in his research and a writer who perfectly carves out his story with a pen as sharp as a stiletto. He has a strong sense of place and is surprisingly vivid, almost obsessive in his pursuit of details. His writing style is deceptively novelistic and is belied only by the 34 pages of precise source notes that rival those of some of the more “serious” Mafia writers. When Dash says a murder victim ate a stew of beans, beets and potatoes, you can bet he did; when the victim was all but beheaded by a knife that penetrated his thick, three-ply linen collar, ditto. Even if The First Family weren't a non-fiction chronicle of the earliest days of the Mafia, the book would be worth reading as a perfect example of literary historical non-fiction. And for writers attempting to unearth an obscure story from the long-ago past, Dash's technique is a template. This is writing with authority.’
Toronto Globe & Mail
‘Highly researched and smoothly written… Dash writes with panache and authority. He provides context for the birth of an American underworld institution, but in no way glamorizes the gangsters who dominate his story.’
‘Impressive… well-researched history for readers fascinated, and even repulsed, by organized crime.’
Dallas Morning News
‘Dash is a terrific historical researcher and storyteller. With The First Family, another commendable combination of careful documentation and stirring narrative, he extends his string of successes in chronicling the origins of the American Mafia. It is a bloody, bloody tale.’
‘Dash’s crisp prose and imaginative use of sources yield riveting details – engrossing dialogue, the number and position of wounds on a murder victim, how many greasy counterfeit bills larded with misspellings Morello’s minions were manufacturing and passing – that create novelistic scenes and tensions. But it’s all true.’
‘Well-researched… innovative… Academic historians will envy Dash’s ability to craft a compelling narrative out of fragmentary data. Giuseppe Morello cuts a frightening figure.’
Federico Varese, Professor of Criminology, Oxford University, in the Times Literary Supplement
'Dash has an unusual talent for the telling detail, and dazzles with this account of the American Mafia between 1892 and 1930. His prose is precise, functional – but beautiful. The manner in which he reconstructs the Little Italy of the early twentieth century – with its muddy streets filled with rubbish, its lack of privacy, overcrowded houses, running damp in winter and its oven summers – or describes Benedetto Madonia's last night of life, rain soaking the streets as the doomed man enjoys his last meal, move his book beyond the bounds of a purely historical essay and lend it the qualities of fiction... The reader embarks on a seductive journey as the lives of the main characters gradually converge... Dash combines the storytelling qualities of a novelist with firm grounding in historical reality.'
La Nueva España
‘Mike Dash excels at turning bizarre and esoteric historical episodes into thrilleresque nonfiction.’
‘Mike Dash’s purpose is to trace the origins of the Mafia in New York, where it took shape… Dash is good at filling in the gaps and providing texture to popular knowledge. The research is impressive, as are the pen portraits – and it pays to persevere to the end. There is one final dilemma for the Mafia enthusiast: who should play Giuseppe Morello in the movie now that Brando is gone.’
‘Extensively researched and well laid-out… Dash brings a well-ordered and sober eye to the birth of organised crime and its sordid reality. A world in which men regularly died from wounds “large enough to admit a teacup,” and where the butchered remains of rivals were routinely stashed in empty sugar barrels, is proof, if proof were needed, that crime does not pay.’
‘Impressive, well-researched, with memorable protagonists… Dash seems to have learned about every immigrant Sicilian mobster, every murder committed by them, every scheme to extort money… His book is so unrelenting in its description of gore that I often felt queasy.’
'Fiendishly readable… an impressive achievement in scholarship and narration. Dash’s account is as persuasive as it is lively, and it is unlikely that the quality of his research will be surpassed soon. He knows how to build and release suspense, how to make a complex narrative lucid, and how to reconstruct memorable characters – the sympathetic as well as the savage. He is deft in his depictions of violence, neither glamorizing the countless murders nor ignoring the significance of their theatrical quality. He commands the reader's attention from the first page to the last. This is a fine telling of a regrettable but important American story.’
‘The Mob comes to America, and rivers of blood flow. An altogether excellent account… Dash writes with flair and care alike, taking pains to keep a complicated story and a vast cast of characters on track while studding the text with nicely hard-boiled observations. Essential.’
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
‘An enthralling account… Decades before the Five Families emerged and more than half a century before Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather, Giuseppe Morello and his family controlled all manner of crime in New York City… Readers may think they know the mob, but Morello’s ruthless rule makes even the fictional Tony Soprano look tame.’
Publishers Weekly, starred review
‘Morello's life story has it all — a harsh childhood, a physical infirmity, the tough life of an immigrant—plus the ultimate rise to power. British historian Dash does a terrific job… Recommended for all readers interested in true crime or New York City — or in a good history book.’
‘Has Mike Dash written the best Mafia book
ever? The First Family is a cat-and-mouse tale between Flynn and Morello, as
the Fed hunts a serial killer who's arguably New York's most vicious criminal.
It's also a wonderful look into early police investigation practices, which
were rudimentary at best, and utterly incompetent and corrupt at worst. What makes this book so good is Dash's
research -- and his ability to extrapolate that into a personal, vivid tale.
This isn't your father's history book. It's superbly written, psychologically
insightful, a drama pulled from old newspapers and police records.’
Pete Kotz, truecrimereport.com
‘Energetic… astute… With original research its forte, Dash’s history will impress aficionados of Mob history.’
'While most Americans can name two or three famous Mafiosi, few have
ever heard of Giuseppe Morella. Dash's vivid, fascinating account
of his life and times may change that. Dash combed through century-old
newspaper articles, police files, and court transcripts, and his
extensive research shows on every page and sets the record straight on
pre-Prohibition mob operations. The narrative brims with anecdotes and
little-known facts, and Dash's animated, eloquent prose results in
a convincing and powerful story.'
‘I love Mike Dash‘s books, and this is his best so far. Who’d have thought that the origins of the American Mafia, lost for decades in the mists of the early 1900s, could be excavated so clearly and so enjoyably? Working from newly uncovered documents, Dash has given us the first close-up view of how, when, and where the Mafia began. It’s a tale of great intrigue, told with real flair, drama and, thankfully, precision.’
Bryan Burrough, author of Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34
‘Mike Dash is a brilliant researcher and writer who has done full justice to one of the most astonishing true stories. Dash exhumes long forgotten evidence to tell us exactly how the Mafia arrived and – more importantly – how it thrived in this country.’
Nicholas Pileggi, author of Wiseguy and Casino
‘Mike Dash's history of the origins of the American Mafia is as well written as The Godfather, with the added bonus of being true. An engrossing tale richly interwoven with personal details and historical drama, "The First Family" is not only one of the best history books I've ever read, but kept me as engrossed as any Tom Clancy or Ken Follett novel. I lost sleep because I couldn't put this book down.
With over 40 pages of notes "The First Family" is extensively researched and documented. This is the story of how the Mafia came to be, both here and in Italy. Dash tells the story of Giuseppe Morello, called "The Clutch Hand", and how the Mafia established itself in America generations before the Five Families. Dash explores the mythology and traditions of the mob – how for example they became known as "The Black Hand."
These men started as petty kidnappers and extortionists who exploited their own people. Had not Prohibition been created they might never have flourished and grown.
A major contribution of Dash's work is to document that although these men made thousands of dollars (at a time when that was real money) and had enormous power, most died horrible deaths and destitute. Dash de-glorifies these killers that we've glamorized and made into heroes. They were horrible, evil people who, as Dash documents, had no compunction about killing, maiming, and destroying the lives of children, women, and men - in or out of the mob.
This was a great read in every way: educational, engrossing, and entertaining.’
Amazon.com customer review