The Cigar (2023) – Carmine Galante – Book Review

The Cigar: Carmine Galante, Mafia Terror (2023) by Frank Dimatteo and Michael Benson can be only described as a long-form Wikipedia article. It’s a light read that makes you feel like you got a pretty good grasp of Carmine Galante’s career and yet it leaves you wondering if you actually learned anything new. Unfortunately, the authors didn’t seem to care all that much about their book and seemingly slapped something together to fulfill a contractual obligation – it lacks effort from cover to cover. I made a comment about two months ago saying that in order for this book to be valuable it needed to shed more light on the Bonanno Montreal decina’s early history prior to Galante’s arrival and the politics of the reorganization under the Bonanno flag, sketch an up-to-date succession between Joseph Bonanno and Phillip Rastelli’s reign, and include sourced endnotes with an extensive bibliography. Did it do any of it? No…

The first thing I do when getting a new book on organized crime is flip to the back and look at the bibliography to get a feel as to what I have in store. I was not impressed with what I saw. The book is essentially a summary of Selwyn Raab’s Five Families, Andy Petepiece’s collection of notes on the Bonanno’s, and Galante’s file found on the FBI Vault site. In terms of court cases, only three are cited in their appellate version (aka the free ones you can find online). To me, that said everything I needed to know about the authors’ intentions. If they are not willing to invest in their book by obtaining the actual court cases and sifting through trial testimony and other discovery materials, why should readers spend their money on this book? The authors didn’t believe or didn’t care about this book, and it showed.[1] Relying on so few sources impacted the book in two major ways. First, the authors were clearly struggling to hit their contractual word count or page count because at least a good quarter of this book is not even about him, it’s filler. It is shocking that one would have a problem filling up pages when talking about one of the most infamous Mafioso of all time, but at times the premise felt thin. This, unfortunately, impacts the book’s credibility because there are certainly a few instances of made-up dialogue. Furthermore, the expletive filled “street style” prose detracts more than adding an aura of authenticity around the text. Such style might work when you are narrating your own life and events, but when you are talking about a person who you’ve met twice, it gets annoying. A biography written by a third person warrants more objectivity and Frank Dimatteo’s personal opinions on Galante are of secondary importance and at times unnecessary.

The biggest issue from using so few and frankly outdated sources, is that it repeats myths, misconceptions, and outright false information. I’m not going to go paragraph by paragraph pointing out each and every single mistake, but I wanted to include some of the ones that caught my attention so that hopefully any person reading this would be mindful of these in the future or maybe even learn something new.

  • The book’s early history on the Mafia in the United States is very suspect. For instance, they say ‘the Black Hand’ was the name of Italian organized crime circa 1910. That, of course, cannot be true. The Black Hand was not an organization, but rather it was a form of extortion. More importantly, the Black Hand was fundamentally an anti-Mafia activity as explained by Professor David Critchley.[2] The Black Hand undermined the authority of the Mafia in Italian neighborhoods and case studies show a weak association between Mafia membership and Black Hand racketeering. Critchley states in his book, “Sicilians did mount Black Hand forays, but almost always acting on an individual basis and before joining an organized crime Family” and, “Black Handers hardly ever progressed into other forms of organized crime that yielded larger profits with less risk” thus indicating that, “the Black Hand could not be viewed as representing a “stage” in the evolution of U.S. organized crime, or a “training ground” for prohibition era Mafiosi.”
  • Despite citing Joseph Bonanno’s book, somehow the authors continued to repeat the myth that Charles “Lucky” Luciano set-up the “Five Families” system. We know that cannot be the case because Joseph Bonanno himself notes that five separate families existed in New York before the dawn of the Castellammarese War. The best resource on understanding the formation of the early Mafia in New York has to the 2014 Informer Journal. If you are going to spend money, buy that instead of this this.
  • The book suffers from multiple internal inconsistencies. The first major one comes early on in the form of the tragic Carlo Tresca murder. The book emphatically states that Carmine Galante killed him as a favor for Vito Genovese and yet the rest of the chapter goes to explain how police and law enforcement suspected that Frank Garafolo of the Bonanno’s had the most to gain from the murder. You cannot claim something as a fact, without providing evidence for it. Professor Alan Block, who also covered Tresca’s assassination, postulated that the murder could’ve been ordered by Generose Pope and Frank Garafolo over politics and the ILGWU (garment) union.[3]
  • Another internal inconsistency came in the form of who was Consigliere after Joseph Bonanno’s exile to Tucson, Arizona in 1968. At one point the book states that Anthony Spero was the Consigliere since 1968, when preceding and succeeding chapters mentioned that it was Stefano “Stevie Beef” Cannone. So, was it Spero or was it Cannone? (It was Cannone).
  • The book repeated the misconception that Joseph Bonanno made Carmine Galante his Consigliere and that he functioned as practically his underboss. That falsehood was taken straight from Five Families. We know that’s not true based on contemporary FBI reports that listed John Tartamella as the Bonanno Consigliere in 1960, the time Carmine Galante was supposed to serve in that capacity.[4]  Furthermore, in his own book, Bonanno states that he couldn’t just “appoint” someone to the Consigliere position. Instead, it was an elected role.  
  • Then there are moments of inflating Charles Luciano’s position as the person who filled the void of the infamous French Connection once one of its leaders died or how Luciano set-up Genovese who thought of using the Appalachian meeting to crown himself as the Boss of Bosses. Again, just by reading Bonanno’s book (which the authors did, allegedly) they would see that the Appalachia happened to resolve the turmoil in the Gambino crime family following Albert Anastasia’s murder.

I think that’s enough “negativity” and I’ve made my point clear. On a brighter side, I do want to give the authors props for being a little bit intellectually honest regarding Carmine Galante’s position/status post prison release in 1974. They didn’t try to claim he was the Bonanno Boss or the “Boss of Bosses” in an effort to inflate his status and make him sound more grandiose for the purpose of selling more copies. They also emphasized the Castellammarese character at the heart of the Bonanno family early on, even mentioning more obscure figures such as Sebastiano DiGaetano, an early Boss. But they were not able to fully think through it and stated that the Five Families were related by activity rather than common ancestry. Thanks to the 2014 Informer Journal, we now know that not to be the case. Instead, the early Families were formed around a nucleus of core network connections via paisans. For instance, the Corleonesi nature of the Lucchese and Genovese crime families, the Castellammarese core of the Bonanno family, or the Palermitani identity of the Gambino and Colombo families was central to their early history and formation.

Ultimately, this book is useless to all audience types. Anyone who has read anything about the Mafia will find little value in this book due to a lack of new information. For the novices, this book is of no use due to the many misconceptions and myths it reprints. I finished the book still not knowing when Carmine Galante was likely inducted and that’s a big issue after you read 300 pages dedicated to the guy. If you have a few dozen bucks to spare, buy the 2014 Informer Journal (not sponsored) instead.

Thank you for reading. If you want to learn more about the Bonanno crime family, I suggest clicking the following links to get the latest research from the Black Hand Forum:

Bonannos 1960s Chart – An attempt to chronicle the complete family make up of the Bonanno crime family in 1963.

Bonanno Family Lineage Chart – An attempt to chart a lineage of Bonanno leaders in Castellammare del Golfo and New York.

Asaro Clan Info + Early Castellammarese Mafia – Compilation of information of an important clan in the Bonanno family with great historical information.

The 1960s Bonanno War & the Fall of Joe Bonanno – The Mob Archeologists is the best YouTube channel covering the Mafia’s history. 

As always shout out to the R/Mafia Discord. Please check out JoePuzzles234/Mythy’s website on California’s Cosa Nostra. His next few ones should be very enlightening.   

[1] I noticed that this is part of a wider trend within the mob genre. Authors cheapen their books by just utilizing the free appellate decisions of court cases instead of buying the original thing. Personally, I have purchased two cases (USA v. Pagano, et al. 96-cr-517 WGB and USA v. Macchia, et al. 92-cr-1147 LDW) and from firsthand experience I can say that appellate decisions only scratch the surface of the information and details contained in the actual indictments, exhibits, discovery materials, and court testimony. These authors are doing a disservice to themselves and their audience.  

[2] David Critchley, “The Origin of Organized Crime in America”. 2009. Chapter 2.

[3] Allan A. Block, “Space, Time, and Organized Crime”. 1994. Chapter 5.

[4] FBI, La Cosa Nostra, New York Office. April 8th, 1969. NARA Record Number: 124-10226-10143.