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The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History

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The gripping true story of the origins of the mafia in America—and the brilliant Italian-born detective who gave his life to stop it *Soon to be a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio* Beginning in the summer of 1903, an insidious crime wave filled New York City, and then the entire country, with fear. The children of Italian immigrants were kidnapped, and dozens The gripping true story of the origins of the mafia in America—and the brilliant Italian-born detective who gave his life to stop it *Soon to be a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio* Beginning in the summer of 1903, an insidious crime wave filled New York City, and then the entire country, with fear. The children of Italian immigrants were kidnapped, and dozens of innocent victims were gunned down. Bombs tore apart tenement buildings. Judges, senators, Rockefellers, and society matrons were threatened with gruesome deaths. The perpetrators seemed both omnipresent and invisible. Their only calling card: the symbol of a black hand. The crimes whipped up the slavering tabloid press and heated ethnic tensions to the boiling point. Standing between the American public and the Black Hand’s lawlessness was Joseph Petrosino. Dubbed the “Italian Sherlock Holmes,” he was a famously dogged and ingenious detective, and a master of disguise. As the crimes grew ever more bizarre and the Black Hand’s activities spread far beyond New York’s borders, Petrosino and the all-Italian police squad he assembled raced to capture members of the secret criminal society before the country’s anti-immigrant tremors exploded into catastrophe. Petrosino’s quest to root out the source of the Black Hand’s power would take him all the way to Sicily—but at a terrible cost.    Unfolding a story rich with resonance in our own era, The Black Hand is fast-paced narrative history at its very best.


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The gripping true story of the origins of the mafia in America—and the brilliant Italian-born detective who gave his life to stop it *Soon to be a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio* Beginning in the summer of 1903, an insidious crime wave filled New York City, and then the entire country, with fear. The children of Italian immigrants were kidnapped, and dozens The gripping true story of the origins of the mafia in America—and the brilliant Italian-born detective who gave his life to stop it *Soon to be a major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio* Beginning in the summer of 1903, an insidious crime wave filled New York City, and then the entire country, with fear. The children of Italian immigrants were kidnapped, and dozens of innocent victims were gunned down. Bombs tore apart tenement buildings. Judges, senators, Rockefellers, and society matrons were threatened with gruesome deaths. The perpetrators seemed both omnipresent and invisible. Their only calling card: the symbol of a black hand. The crimes whipped up the slavering tabloid press and heated ethnic tensions to the boiling point. Standing between the American public and the Black Hand’s lawlessness was Joseph Petrosino. Dubbed the “Italian Sherlock Holmes,” he was a famously dogged and ingenious detective, and a master of disguise. As the crimes grew ever more bizarre and the Black Hand’s activities spread far beyond New York’s borders, Petrosino and the all-Italian police squad he assembled raced to capture members of the secret criminal society before the country’s anti-immigrant tremors exploded into catastrophe. Petrosino’s quest to root out the source of the Black Hand’s power would take him all the way to Sicily—but at a terrible cost.    Unfolding a story rich with resonance in our own era, The Black Hand is fast-paced narrative history at its very best.

30 review for The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    A non-fiction read about an extraordinary man who became the first Italian-American detective in the New York Police Department and his battle against The Black Hand. Petrosino was "the greatest Italian detective in the world," declared the New York Times, the "Italian Sherlock Holmes," according to popular legend back in the old country. introduction, xiv. Joseph Petrosino was a scrappy boy who grew into a determined man. He dropped out of school after sixth grade and began to work as a shoe shin A non-fiction read about an extraordinary man who became the first Italian-American detective in the New York Police Department and his battle against The Black Hand. Petrosino was "the greatest Italian detective in the world," declared the New York Times, the "Italian Sherlock Holmes," according to popular legend back in the old country. introduction, xiv. Joseph Petrosino was a scrappy boy who grew into a determined man. He dropped out of school after sixth grade and began to work as a shoe shiner on the streets. Then he worked his way up to street cleaner, where he was noticed by a member of the NYPD and recruited to be a member of the police. He was an excellent recruit, being one of only a handful who could speak multiple dialects of Italian. This was particularly useful in the heavily Irish police force. Petrosino also had a photographic memory and he would arrest suspects off the streets based on a remembered mug shot. It's telling that the most famous Italian American in the country in the late 1800s was the one deputized by the powerful to track down and imprison his fellow countrymen. ... It was Petrosino, the "hunter of men," who fascinated the old American stock of Knickerbockers and WASPs, and they embraced him like no other Italian American of his time. pg 19 There was an influx of Italian immigrants into the United States in the late 1800s and they were treated poorly. As a result, they didn't trust American authorities and didn't report crimes being committed against them. The Black Hand, a group of unorganized criminals, extorted unknown numbers of Italian immigrants through threats of violence, kidnapping and bombings. That was where Petrosino came into the picture. He was determined to stop them. Petrosino obtained permission to create the Italian Squad, a special task force designed to stop the Black Hand. "When murder and blackmail are in the air," declared the Times, "and the menfolk are white-faced and the womenfolk are saying litanies to the Blessed Mother... all Little Italy looks to the Italian detective to protect it and guard it." pgs 40-41 I read The Black Hand to discuss with my book club and found it gripping. I was enthralled by Petrosino and the dangers he faced. However, other members of the club thought the book became repetitive. "Another bombing?" one of them said. It was as if they were inured to the horrors of the situation because so many bad things were happening again and again. I thought that just added to the tension of the narrative. A few years ago, we read Stephan Talty's Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day for book club and I found it equally brilliant. But, again, others found it slow and bogged down with too many details. I guess it just depends on what sort of non-fiction you enjoy. Highly recommended for non-fiction readers or anybody interested in New York City or U.S. history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rama Rao

    Detective Petrosino’s fight against criminal enterprise in New York At the beginning of the 20th century, Italian immigrants were arriving in large numbers to New York City dreaming big in the new world, but faced hostility from other citizens like German and Irish immigrants. They were also terrorized, extorted, and murdered by a criminal organization known as the “Black Hand”, which was eventually traced to mafia gang operating from Sicily. Their main target were the Italian community in NY th Detective Petrosino’s fight against criminal enterprise in New York At the beginning of the 20th century, Italian immigrants were arriving in large numbers to New York City dreaming big in the new world, but faced hostility from other citizens like German and Irish immigrants. They were also terrorized, extorted, and murdered by a criminal organization known as the “Black Hand”, which was eventually traced to mafia gang operating from Sicily. Their main target were the Italian community in NY that later spread to other major cities. Joseph Petrosino was one of the very few law enforcement officials who possessed the courage to confront this criminal enterprise. This is the true story of one man's determination against all odds in a city that treated Italian immigrants as second class citizens, and the crime perpetrated on them were ignored by the law-enforcement. This book chronicles in detail of Petrosino’s crime fighting methods and his work with President Teddy Roosevelt. In fact Roosevelt first hired him in 1897 as the first Italian detective sergeant in New York. Roosevelt at that time was the head of the New York Board of Police Commissioners, and he was deeply saddened by the level poverty south of the 14th street where most immigrants were living. The elites of New York never stepped below 14th Street, and Roosevelt after reading in newspapers about the crime made major changes in the operation of NYPD. The department was suffering from serious corruption and attended to the interests of the wealthy residents. But the Sicilian Mafia using the name Black Hand was organizing and operating faster than NYPD. Killings, abductions, and violence left the entire Italian population in New York under constant fear. But Petrosino was a strong willed and hard-nosed detective who collided with gangsters head-on. Years later President Roosevelt said of Petrosino that “He didn’t know the name of fear.” Petrosino was killed by the gang members in 1908 during his visit to Sicily, but he certainly left a lasting impression and he changed the way Italians were seen in America. The story is currently owned by the Paramount Studios to film the life and work of Joseph Petrosino with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the American history, the raise of mafia in New York and Italian American history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I dnf this book. It really was not a poorly written book but for some reason it just did not hold my interest. With so many books on my tbr shelf, I decided to put it aside and move on.

  4. 4 out of 5

    patrick Lorelli

    First, let me say that this is a history book as well as a book about one man’s fight against “The Black Hand”. Over the years reading about the history of the Mafia I knew that when it first arrived in the U.S. it was called the Black Hand. I had also read just small little references about Joseph Petrosino who was a detective in the N.Y. Police. He was the first Italian at a time when the police and fire were owned by the Irish. This was a time when the migration from southern Italy and Sicily First, let me say that this is a history book as well as a book about one man’s fight against “The Black Hand”. Over the years reading about the history of the Mafia I knew that when it first arrived in the U.S. it was called the Black Hand. I had also read just small little references about Joseph Petrosino who was a detective in the N.Y. Police. He was the first Italian at a time when the police and fire were owned by the Irish. This was a time when the migration from southern Italy and Sicily were at a peak. Poverty levels in those two areas were great and many Italians were looking for a new start. Also looking for a new start were criminals leaving both of those regions, and Joseph Petrosino knew this. He was a beat cop working the Italian neighborhood. He could speak the language and the peddlers and people got to know him. Going to his superiors and explaining his concerns fell on deaf ears until bombings started to take place. This is when they made him a detective and after some kidnappings, he was given some men who were now called the Italian squad. Of course, most New Yorkers were not concerned with a few Italians being a bomb or their children being kidnapped for most wanted them to go back to Italy. This all changed though when The Black Hand moved to a richer side of Manhattan. Now people wanted action and expected it right away. They looked to Petrosino. His ways would not work today but for back then they were perfect. He also had to get people to believe that they were going to be safe in order to testify against anyone he brought to trial. In one year he had 17 murder convictions which were huge in early 1900’s. He would tell the N.Y.PD and the federal government that if they did not work together and start to arrest and deport these criminals, the Black Hand will only get stronger. They did they became the Mafia. This same meeting with the secret service he told them of a plot to kill President William McKinley, in Buffalo. Even after Roosevelt who was Vice President vouched for his abilities this was ignored. He was later assassinated in Buffalo. By 1909 Petrosino was married and had a little girl. He traveled to Sicily to go over records and compile evidence to deport anyone arrested who was a criminal in Italy. The problem was Police Commissioner Bingham gave an interview to a newspaper while he was abroad. Now knowing that he was in their homeland and on the lookout once spotted he was assassinated in the street of Palermo. This became headlines in New York. The funeral was huge over 200,000 people and the city declared the day a holiday. His widow died in 1957. He is created with starting the first bomb squad, and a lot of his crime fighting techniques are still used today. The author does a good job in showing you the plight of the immigrant Italians of this time and their struggles, whether it’s about the 11 lynched in New Orleans in 1891, or how a mine explosion in 1910 16 miners was killed 9 Italian, and by 1910 one in five that came to the U.S. were either killed or maimed while on the job, and then had to deal with their own doing this to them. If the government would have followed through with the detective's plans about deportation they could have stopped or deterred the Mafia. His ideas were not used until after 9/11 and of course, he gets no credit. There is so much to this book besides a criminal aspect. I focused on the other history part being Italian and my great grand came over around that time. For me, this was a very good book and worth the read. I gave this book 5 stars. Follow us at www.1rad-readerreviews.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roger

    Only read half of this book. Kept thinking it was going to get better and more compelling but it never did. Too bad because I liked the premise and wanted to learn more about Petrosino, but it was just too dull.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Nuzie

    It’s probably not fair of me to review this because I didn’t finish it. I got about half way. I wanted to love it because its about such an interesting time in history, but I’m a character person and this was written like facts, not a story. This is blasphemous... but I think the movie will be better 🙈

  7. 4 out of 5

    Megan Richardson

    The premise sounded interesting, but I just could not get into this book. It was not very well written and for a non-fiction book gave way too much credence to what might have happened or what the main character might have felt. If I wanted that, I'd read a novel. The premise sounded interesting, but I just could not get into this book. It was not very well written and for a non-fiction book gave way too much credence to what might have happened or what the main character might have felt. If I wanted that, I'd read a novel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Would recommend reading over the Audiobook.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karin

    This is about a secret Italian group of extortioners (and kidnappers and murderers) who came to the US in the late 19th century and the fight against them. Much of hit centres on the Italian-American detective Joseph Petrosino who started with the NYPD in the sanitation department (that's right, clearing the streets of garbage, horse manure, dead horses, etc) and worked his way up. He was promoted to Detective by future president Theodore Roosevelt who was heading a campaign to fix the NYPD and This is about a secret Italian group of extortioners (and kidnappers and murderers) who came to the US in the late 19th century and the fight against them. Much of hit centres on the Italian-American detective Joseph Petrosino who started with the NYPD in the sanitation department (that's right, clearing the streets of garbage, horse manure, dead horses, etc) and worked his way up. He was promoted to Detective by future president Theodore Roosevelt who was heading a campaign to fix the NYPD and make it become a more effective police force. I was not surprised to learn that this book has been made into a movie when I did an internet search on the Black Hand. Petrosino was brilliant at going undercover--he could literally become the person he was pretending to be, but even after he was known, he still was able to to excellent work. He also kept trying to get more and more people into the fight against this group since they would change tactics and methods as he caught on to theirs. The writing is strong for the most part. I have read some of the reviews (Most are good, some are not) and some complain that he focuses too much on Petrosino, but the subtitle says it all--this is the epic war between the two in that the detective was an extremely important person on the side of the law. The writing isn't perfect, but this book is not as dry or as boring as one might expect for a book full of facts and anecdotes used to illustrate what went on.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Val

    This book is fun history, told engagingly with an excellent combination of biography, mafia history, and crime investigation. As the book is not a biography of Joe Petrosino, the author only shares what is needed to understand the man, public opinions of Italian immigrants in late 19th century and early 20th, and what shaped Petrosino into the individual force for justice that he became. Petrosino holds a unique position in the pantheon of heroic American lawmen, being the first and principle It This book is fun history, told engagingly with an excellent combination of biography, mafia history, and crime investigation. As the book is not a biography of Joe Petrosino, the author only shares what is needed to understand the man, public opinions of Italian immigrants in late 19th century and early 20th, and what shaped Petrosino into the individual force for justice that he became. Petrosino holds a unique position in the pantheon of heroic American lawmen, being the first and principle Italian in a field dominated almost exclusively by Irishmen in his lifetime. In fact, one of the great values of this book is its frank presentation of American discriminations and disdain for Italian immigrants in every major American city in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were denied jobs, denied housing in most neighborhoods, mocked and insulted with racial epithets because their skin color was somewhat swarthy, targeted with immigration control laws and quotas, and considered a growing blight on every community they attempted to make their home. Political cartoons about Italian immigrants in Petrosino's day called for Italian immigrants to be put on boats or in cages and drowned in the sea. Italians were often beaten and even shot by police for misdemeanors, because there were no repercussions in that era. Italians knew what it was like to be stopped on the street simply for looking different in non-Italian neighborhoods or shopping areas, and if they resisted, they were often killed. I was aware of the anti-immigration sentiments of this period of our history, but reading again the way people talked about Italian immigrants illustrated that we have not progressed as a nation much in our tolerance and ethnic blending in the last 100+ years. Substitute black or Hispanic or Iraqi or Syrian for "Italian" in the first few chapters of this book, and you might see that we still target immigrants today for treatment with less than the human dignity ALL people deserved in Petrosino's day and in ours. Remarkably, Petrosino changed opinions in his profession and in American society nationwide through his audacious courage standing up to the most feared international organized crime organization as it spread into large American cities. No police officer or detective or federal agent put himself in more danger on a daily basis for years on end than Joe Petrosino, who dedicated most of his career to infiltrating and destroying the Black Hand, the southern Italian mafia that Hollywood likes to glorify and portray as criminals with honor, if there is such a thing. Anyone who believes this fantasy should read this book to understand that the mafia in Petrosino's day was quite simply a terrorist organization that used beatings, threats, blackmail, extortion, dismembering, kidnapping, torture, stabbing, bombings, and assassination to cow Italian immigrant communities into submission. The Black Hand knew major police departments had no desire to enforce the law and make arrests in Italian communities, much like police today are accused of standing by and allowing heinous crimes in black or Hispanic neighborhoods. Thus, the mafia feared no one and terrorized their own immigrant countrymen. Petrosino knew that giving in to the ransom demands or "protection" payments the Black Hand demanded would only serve to enhance public fear and embolden the criminals to engage in more crimes with no fear of arrest or prosecution. They murdered witnesses, jurors, judges, prosecutors, and not surprisingly those who saw crimes never reported them or refused to testify. The Black Hand was (and still is under different names) a secret combination that eroded families, communities, and over time, the nation. That Petrosino investigated and arrested and stood toe to toe with ruthless killers for so long, ranks as one of the most courageous law enforcement careers in American history. His tenacity won over most of his critics and changed public opinion of Italians among all races and ethnicities. The cast of characters who go in and out of Petrosino's life are colorful and memorable. His police colleagues, city politicians, criminals, court officials, family members, Teddy Roosevelt, and many more, made the storytelling lively and informative. The author brings these historical figures to life. I won't reveal anything here about how Petrosino finished his career or which major crime family bosses he brought to justice. If learning about the arrival of the mafia in America interests you, how it spread, and early efforts to root it out before it could grow roots in this country, this will be a useful and very entertaining read. You will find it impossible not to admire Petrosino's courage and his desire to prove that Italians had value to America by investigating crimes no one in the New York PD wanted to tackle. One wonders how things might be different today had more Italian immigrants, and later the general citizenry of NY City, followed his advice on how to respond to threats and extortion and blackmail. 5 stars for being a fun and engaging history of a relatively narrow time frame, related with wit and skilled storytelling. Also, it is soon to be a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, so if you're like me and want to read the author's depictions before a filmmaker influences them, you have a short window of time remaining.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    The Black Hand The Epic War between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History by Stephen Talty The Black Hand is the symbol of fear which spread across New York and Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. One single Italian, Joseph Petrosino, doggedly pursued the order of secret criminal society. They originally terrorized their own: other Italians. Eventually they became so powerful that they were feared across the country. Petrosino became famous for tracking the The Black Hand The Epic War between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History by Stephen Talty The Black Hand is the symbol of fear which spread across New York and Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. One single Italian, Joseph Petrosino, doggedly pursued the order of secret criminal society. They originally terrorized their own: other Italians. Eventually they became so powerful that they were feared across the country. Petrosino became famous for tracking them down. He also was the first Italian to break into the tightly bound Irish Police force. He was given his own Italian force. Petrosino played the violin, was extremely strong, would devise careful disguises and slowly become a part of laborer group, reporting back to the police until the members he was targeting were brought to justice. This true crime story is exhilarating. It pits one man against a whole group. When Petrosino died the entire country mourned. If you like true crime stories, you will love this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julia Garcia

    Stephan Talty's "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian Mafia and the Italian detective who gave his life to try and stop it. Known as "the Italian Sherlock Holmes", Joseph Petrosino was an Italian immigrant who grew up in America in a time when Italians were looked down on. "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian struggle in early America, the rise of "The Black Hand" and the heroic man that was so loyal to America and his fellow Italians, that he would stop at nothing to see the Mafi Stephan Talty's "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian Mafia and the Italian detective who gave his life to try and stop it. Known as "the Italian Sherlock Holmes", Joseph Petrosino was an Italian immigrant who grew up in America in a time when Italians were looked down on. "The Black Hand" is the story of the Italian struggle in early America, the rise of "The Black Hand" and the heroic man that was so loyal to America and his fellow Italians, that he would stop at nothing to see the Mafia defeated, even at the risk of his own life. Definitely, one of Stephan Talty's best books. I had the chance to buy it at a Barnes and Nobles, but decided I would read my library copy first and see how I liked it. Now I wish I had just bought it. A great, exciting read. Talty makes history come alive; the way he tells it is more like a fast-paced novel that will keep you on your toes until the very end and wanting more. The awesome thing is, this book is non-fiction. For those that say history is dry and boring, you obviously have not read a Stephan Talty book!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Meh. It was ok. It would have been a lot better as a straight history of the mafia rather than focusing on one Italian American detective. There was too much detail about this one detective's life - like the author felt compelled to include all his research into the final book. I didn't need to read an entire chapter about his funeral. Yawn. Two or three paragraphs would have been plenty. I would not recommend this book to anyone. The only positive thing I got from reading this book was a desire Meh. It was ok. It would have been a lot better as a straight history of the mafia rather than focusing on one Italian American detective. There was too much detail about this one detective's life - like the author felt compelled to include all his research into the final book. I didn't need to read an entire chapter about his funeral. Yawn. Two or three paragraphs would have been plenty. I would not recommend this book to anyone. The only positive thing I got from reading this book was a desire to read Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Try to guess. Why. Again. Yes. Always him. Try to guess. Why. Again. Yes. Always him.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike Billington

    There was a time when Joseph Petrosino was the most famous lawman in the United States. There was a good reason for that. In the early years of the 20th Century The Black Hand - a loosely organized group of some of the most vicious gangs in the country - was committing horrific crimes on an epic scale. Petrosino was among the very few police officers willing to stand against them and he put literally hundreds of Black Hand members in jail. His exploits against these criminals - who murdered men, w There was a time when Joseph Petrosino was the most famous lawman in the United States. There was a good reason for that. In the early years of the 20th Century The Black Hand - a loosely organized group of some of the most vicious gangs in the country - was committing horrific crimes on an epic scale. Petrosino was among the very few police officers willing to stand against them and he put literally hundreds of Black Hand members in jail. His exploits against these criminals - who murdered men, women, and children with equal ferocity - filled newspaper columns for years and he was frequently interviewed on the dangers of this rapidly growing threat to the peace and security of everyday Americans. Petrosino was an immigrant and before he became a world-famous detective - dubbed by some newsmen as "The Italian Sherlock Holmes" - he had a long hill to climb. Mirroring the kind of racial and ethnic rhetoric that has become a staple of American life in the 21st Century, politicians and police officials blamed Italian immigrants for every heinous crime on the books. Some - not all - newspapers joined in these attacks as well. The result: There were very few Italian-American cops. Petrosino fought off the prejudice and not only joined the New York City police department, he rose to become its most famous detective. Author Stephen Talty has carefully chronicled Petrosino's fight against The Black Hand. Drawing on historical accounts from newspapers, magazines, and the records of the police department as well as Petrosino's own writing, Talty has written a compelling narrative about the detective, his life and times. It is a fascinating account of bravery, the steadfast courage of one man who was willing to stand against a rising tide of criminal violence on an unprecedented scale. Fighting the prejudice of his own department, the fear of victims and potential victims, and gangsters who were willing to kill and maim anyone who stood in their way, Petrosino waged an unrelenting war against The Black Hand. And he won some significant battles; breaking apart some of the most vicious gangs, putting some of its leaders in jail and getting others deported. He made more than his share of enemies in this fight and, eventually, they would catch up to him. This is a fascinating look at a nearly forgotten era in American law enforcement history and well worth the time it takes to read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    In turn-of-the-century New York City, bursting at the seams with immigrants and industry, a sinister evil began preying on the new arrivals the city's high and mighty shunned and ignored. Murders, bombings, and horrific kidnappings began in the tenements of terrified Italian immigrants and spread their grip across the entire country – the work of a formless, decentralized criminal network that called itself the Black Hand. As innocent people suffered and the city government largely yawned, one e In turn-of-the-century New York City, bursting at the seams with immigrants and industry, a sinister evil began preying on the new arrivals the city's high and mighty shunned and ignored. Murders, bombings, and horrific kidnappings began in the tenements of terrified Italian immigrants and spread their grip across the entire country – the work of a formless, decentralized criminal network that called itself the Black Hand. As innocent people suffered and the city government largely yawned, one extraordinary man stepped forward to fight this menace – a shy, unassuming, opera-loving master of disguise with a photographic memory and incorruptible courage. The story of Joseph Petrosino, "The Italian Sherlock Holmes," and his war with the Black Hand reads like a pulse-pounding thriller, but author Stephan Talty has drawn his true tale extensively from newspaper accounts and Petrosino family mementoes. Though Talty's prose gets a touch breathless at times, this book remains as fun and gripping as a saga of murder, mayhem, and tragedy can get -- an excellent choice for crime and history buffs.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dean Jobb

    The Black Hand is a classic, against-all-odds story with a narrative drive as relentless as its central character, New York detective Joseph Petrosino. Talty’s vivid storytelling and deep research recreate a forgotten crime wave and bring to life a rule-breaking, hero-cop on a mission to protect his Italian countrymen.

  18. 5 out of 5

    William DuFour

    An interesting book about a little known detective who with his grit, tenacity and innovation helped end the plague on immigrants by a vicious criminal/anarchist organization. This book should be read by every law enforcement person on how to defeat such organizations.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Giacominafiorino

    The Black Hand is the true story of Joseph Petrosino, one of New York City greatest detective, and is war on the criminal society Black Hand. A very engrossing and captivating narrative in every page.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn Green

    Fascinating and horrifying. I can't believe The Black Hand Society went on for so long, destroying so many lives. If you have any interest in the mafia, you'd appreciate this account of an early form of organized crime that began in Manhattan but didn't stay there. Fascinating and horrifying. I can't believe The Black Hand Society went on for so long, destroying so many lives. If you have any interest in the mafia, you'd appreciate this account of an early form of organized crime that began in Manhattan but didn't stay there.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bailee

    Crazy story and Petrosino is fascinating but reading this book feels like Talty knew it was going to be made into a movie before he even finished writing it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Enigmaticblue

    I really enjoyed this! I'm married to an Italian, and this was really fascinating. I really enjoyed this! I'm married to an Italian, and this was really fascinating.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    An interesting piece of micro-history on the infamous Italian crime organization at the turn of the century. The story centers on the Italian born policeman who tries to take the organization down. 3.5 stars. A little closer to four stars than three stars. Glad I read it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This book had the potential to be so much better. The story is interesting and one that I didn't know - and true crime/crime syndicate stories are usually favorites of mine. However, the book was, unfortunately, not well (or consistently) written. Rather than go deep into a few examples of the Black Hand crime and Petrosino , the author throws out a seemingly unending number of anecdotal stories. The surface level story telling makes it tough to be invested in the book, fully appreciate the Blac This book had the potential to be so much better. The story is interesting and one that I didn't know - and true crime/crime syndicate stories are usually favorites of mine. However, the book was, unfortunately, not well (or consistently) written. Rather than go deep into a few examples of the Black Hand crime and Petrosino , the author throws out a seemingly unending number of anecdotal stories. The surface level story telling makes it tough to be invested in the book, fully appreciate the Black Hand or Petrosino's detective skills. One exception to this is when Petrosino went to Italy - that does have more detail, and I wish the entire book was written in that manner. It's ok - but there are much better reads out there.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Tyler

    History is a fascinating subject to study as there is so much of it, so why do we keep going back to the same places? I feel like I have walked the steps of Julius Caesar and married at least two of Henry XIII’s wives; so often I have read about them. There are countless other tales out there to learn about that may be more obscure, but are just as exciting. I don’t know much about New York around 1900, but after reading ‘‘The Black Hand’’ by Stephan Talty I now know it was a violent place to li History is a fascinating subject to study as there is so much of it, so why do we keep going back to the same places? I feel like I have walked the steps of Julius Caesar and married at least two of Henry XIII’s wives; so often I have read about them. There are countless other tales out there to learn about that may be more obscure, but are just as exciting. I don’t know much about New York around 1900, but after reading ‘‘The Black Hand’’ by Stephan Talty I now know it was a violent place to live, but an interesting one to learn about. As the 19th Century turned into the 20th Century, America was a booming country and the heartbeat of this industry was New York. If the States planned to continue its expansion they needed labourers and many of these came from the poor South of Italy. With these Southern Italian labourers came their hard work ethic and the importance of family, but also a criminal element called The Black Hand. This gang would hold large swathes of American society in its grip for over a decade and no one seemed keen to do anything about them, except for one Detective; Joseph Petrosino. True Crime is not always the most celebrated of genres as it often delves into the dark elements of the human condition for entertainment. Too often an author decides to write about the inner workings of people and this gives the book a false fiction feel. ‘‘The Black Hand’’ does not do this and instead reads more like an enjoyable academic text. It is clear that Talty has researched old newspapers and other sources from the time as when he is in need of something to embellish the story he uses these, rather than placing his own words onto others. This does mean that the book is a little drier than some True Crime, but it also feels far more authentic. With a less compelling narrative to work with ‘‘Black Hand’’ would have been a dull book, but the acts of the violent gang and the lengths that Petrosino goes to defeat them is enough to keep the reader enrapt. By doggedly sticking to the facts Talty is showing a great respect to the history. Many innocent Italians were extorted, financially ruined and even killed. To write a salacious popcorn crime book about all these real people would have been crass. Talty’s writing may be staid, but it is certainly classy with it. ‘‘Black Hand’’ paints a truly fascinating picture of what New York was like in 1900, from the violence through to the ingenuity. Any reader who knows little about the era will gain an insight as Talty is an evocative writer and uses sources from the time to give a historic point of view. There is perhaps an overreliance on secondary sources that will leave some traditional True Crime fans a little bored, but for those more inclined towards history, the structure only emboldens the impact the book has. Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

  26. 5 out of 5

    Walt

    A systematic study of the Black Hand is extraordinarily difficult. Talty orients his book towards the life of Joe Petrosino, one of America's most famous policemen. Although Talty clearly prefers a larger study of the Black Hand, the biographical under-story keeps the book organized and moving. Talty decorates his biography with some of the Black Hand's most heinous crimes, although the crimes he selects for his book may appear stand-offish to the rest of the book or creating a kaleidoscope of i A systematic study of the Black Hand is extraordinarily difficult. Talty orients his book towards the life of Joe Petrosino, one of America's most famous policemen. Although Talty clearly prefers a larger study of the Black Hand, the biographical under-story keeps the book organized and moving. Talty decorates his biography with some of the Black Hand's most heinous crimes, although the crimes he selects for his book may appear stand-offish to the rest of the book or creating a kaleidoscope of imagery that distracts as well as it informs. The Black Hand was a phenomena at the crossroads of the criminal underworld, anarchism, massive immigration, yellow journalism, and government inactivity. The only real option is to focus on immigrants and their individual stories. Enter in Joe Petrosino, an Italian immigrant who smashes his shoe shine box to do something better. Talty knows enough to realize that the story may be a pure fabrication; but he does make general observations and offers commentary on sources. The only other comparable sources are "The Black Hand" by Thomas Pitkin, and "Joe Petrosino" by Arrigo Petacco. Talty is much easier to read than Pitkin; and much more thorough than Petacco. The weakness in the book comes from the almost random instances of Black Hand violence. Talty tries to portray them as part of trends in the development of the Black Hand panic; but he is only partially successful. The outrages themselves are the main thrust of the book, even though it is organized around Petrosino. However, Black Hand crimes do not lend themselves to scientific study. Both Pitkin and Talty observed that there were copycats even within the Italian population as well as copycats in other ethnic communities. Some Black Hand agents were serious in their threats, while many more were more bark than bite. Talty does not try any statistical analysis because the data is so vague in its collection. Another weakness in the book is in the strange referencing system. Rather than using footnotes or endnotes, Talty references passages. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all it is imprecise because page numbers identified in the references do not always line up with the corresponding page in the text due to the transition from Talty's word processor to the print shop. Second, the system does not clearly identify how much of the passage in the text is attributable to the source Talty cites. Finally, the professor in me points out that some sources listed in the Works Cited do not appear in the references and vice-versa, the most classic example being the Pertosino Family Archive. Overall, the book is entertaining and informative. I did enjoy reading, and recommend it to others. It could have been better with a little more discussion on the Black Hand by location. It is a small criticism. But the book feels unfinished. The death of Petrosino is dragged out across three chapters and the epilogue focuses on his slip into obscurity. The references are off-putting due to the strange style and an over-reliance on newspaper articles and not much else.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Birss

    There is a good story contained in this book. Unfortunately, it wavers between a steady narrative written in the style of a novel, which is when it is at its best, and a journalistic look at the history surrounding the rise of The Black Hand, the precursor to the Italian Mafia in New York. Were it written more as the novelization I wish it were, this would be the story of Italian detective Joseph Petrosino, and his fight against rising organized crime even as he experiences and witnesses acts of There is a good story contained in this book. Unfortunately, it wavers between a steady narrative written in the style of a novel, which is when it is at its best, and a journalistic look at the history surrounding the rise of The Black Hand, the precursor to the Italian Mafia in New York. Were it written more as the novelization I wish it were, this would be the story of Italian detective Joseph Petrosino, and his fight against rising organized crime even as he experiences and witnesses acts of racism and prejudice against his fellow Italian immigrant population. He is the first Italian detective working for New York, which is largely controlled by the Irish. The tragic story of his efforts to take down the violent and perverse criminal organization takes him all the way to Sicily. It's the heart of this book, in my opinion, and worth reading if it were on its own. Unfortunately, the pacing of the book is impeded by many interjections of stories of crime and violence from the rising Black Hand. Before I was a third of the way through, I found myself skimming these parts to follow Petrosino's story. Even then, I still had to set aside my dislike of following the story of a cop as protagonist, even if he was an underdog and fighting a truly evil and menacing force. Stories of infiltration give me an itch even if they are interesting. Also, I interpreted the anti-Italian racism as portrayed in the book as sad and tragic. But Petrosino's push to surveil and deport immigrants also didn't sit well with me with politics being as it is right now. The story contained in this book is a fascinating one. But even at its best, it made me feel kind of icky. I admit that the book's title ought to give away the author's intention in who he wishes to research and present. However, the subtitle suggests a book that could have been a lot more interesting than this one, and probably half the length. The book is being made into a film starring Leonardo Dicaprio as Petrosino. The story of this character could definitely support a good film. I would have loved to see Scorsese direct. If reviews are good for the film when it is released, I would recommend watching it instead of reading this book. Maybe if you love the film you'll enjoy the copious amount of backstory this book provides. Otherwise, skip it. ☠ Hardcover, First Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 Two Stars February 1-2, 2018 ☠

  28. 5 out of 5

    Udine

    Good book - it does not glorify or romanticize this lowest element of Italian culture - the Mafia, Black Hand - or whatever you wish to call it. Both my parents were first generation Italian Americans, my Mom from upstate NY and my Dad from WA State. Both had very different experiences concerning the subject of this book but my Dad's family changed the spelling for their last name to distance themselves from the discrimination (which always confused me because my paternal Grandfather would blow Good book - it does not glorify or romanticize this lowest element of Italian culture - the Mafia, Black Hand - or whatever you wish to call it. Both my parents were first generation Italian Americans, my Mom from upstate NY and my Dad from WA State. Both had very different experiences concerning the subject of this book but my Dad's family changed the spelling for their last name to distance themselves from the discrimination (which always confused me because my paternal Grandfather would blow his "cover" whenever he started talking with his heavy accent) and my maternal Grandfather stood firm against any attempt by members of the criminal elements to do his family harm. We were raised not to watch or listen to anything that showed these forces in good light. When city officials (in a Southern CA city where my parents retired) ordered a local deli (that we had visited many times) to take down an outdoor banner honoring John Gotti when he died, we cheered the city and went to the deli to inform them that we would never return even though they made great food. The war against these "families" is ongoing in the hearts of all good Italians - both here and in Italy. Read the book - the good Italian immigrants suffered discrimination not unlike what we see today's immigrants going through - our officials lumping the present day good people with the bad that also come over. I remember as a child one parent of a friend saying I couldn't really be Italian because I wasn't dark enough. My Mom ensured I did not go to their home again. God bless Joseph Petrosino and his family - both his descendants and his ancestors. And thank you Stephan Talty for writing this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pasquale

    Hollywood has spent nearly a century glorifying Organized Crime, specifically the Mafia. While I won't lie and say that I am not a fan of those films and TV programs (I am), I think it's criminal that more stories like those of Giuseppe Petrosino are not told with regularity. As opposed to the glorified Godfathers, the Black Hand was an utterly evil scourge preying on the poor, isolated Italians who had recently immigrated to New York in the early 20th Century. I was also amazed at how instituti Hollywood has spent nearly a century glorifying Organized Crime, specifically the Mafia. While I won't lie and say that I am not a fan of those films and TV programs (I am), I think it's criminal that more stories like those of Giuseppe Petrosino are not told with regularity. As opposed to the glorified Godfathers, the Black Hand was an utterly evil scourge preying on the poor, isolated Italians who had recently immigrated to New York in the early 20th Century. I was also amazed at how institutional racism against Italians was not only so prevalent, but so pivotal in the prevention of so many of these dreadful crimes. Petrosino should be lionized and I think that eventually, with the publication of this book and the soon to be made film adaptation, he may very well get the publicity he so rightly deserved. Talty does a great job reporting Petrosino's career from his joining the NYPD through his assassination and it's aftermath. Good true crime book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    I am not a fan of all non-fiction,but this was a good one.It was not dry at all.I read what I can abt Italian immigrants to NYC in early 1900's since my ancestors came over at that time.I have read abt Petrosino before and he is quite a hero to the Italians and Sicilians of that time. He was the first ever Italian Police Officer. He was proud and determined and could not be "had". He worked his way up from a laborer cleaning streets to Det. in NYC Police Dept. In the end,the Black Hand did have I am not a fan of all non-fiction,but this was a good one.It was not dry at all.I read what I can abt Italian immigrants to NYC in early 1900's since my ancestors came over at that time.I have read abt Petrosino before and he is quite a hero to the Italians and Sicilians of that time. He was the first ever Italian Police Officer. He was proud and determined and could not be "had". He worked his way up from a laborer cleaning streets to Det. in NYC Police Dept. In the end,the Black Hand did have him killed off,but he died a hero and fighting for the safety and American dream that the immigrants came here for.

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