Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic

Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic

by Alexander Stille

The latest "excellent cadavers" were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the Sicilian magistrates who had been the Cosa Nostra's most implacable enemies.

This is the story that Stille tells with such insight and immediacy in Excellent Cadavers.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.23
  • Pages: 480
  • Publish Date: August 6th 1996 by Vintage
  • Isbn10: 0679768637
  • Isbn13: 9780679768630

What People Think about "Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic"

Alexander Stille's masterfully written and researched story of brave and innovative Italian anti-mafia officials in the police, judiciary and for a brief period, the ministerial offices. Falcone had the media spotlight and was the driving force in the Palermo anti-mafia group of magistrates. After the initial success of the 'maxi-trial' where 500 mafiosi where tried at once, Stille describes the systematic weakening of the anti-mafia group from top political forces from Rome. Stille focuses much detail on the connections of the mafia with political power. Stille's central purpose in this book is--aside from giving a history of the first anti-mafia prosecutions--to also give us an idea of how deep the problem is. Such a powerful figure in Italian politics had everything he could want from the state expense accounts no doubt. Normal political advertising and propaganda could probably get just as many votes, so I don't think those factors were a large enough influence to permit the power and rampant chaos from such a large group of deeply ignorant and destructive people, as the mafia. The drug epidemic exploded in Italy in the 1980s as well as in the US, coinciding with the need to fund the Contras and many other proxy wars such as the Islamist anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. While money may not be the prime motivator behind Italian collusion, it is with US involvement because they are using the massive subversive power of the money generated to create a state of controlled chaos and menace, through bribery, to pay proxy armies all over the globe to fight socialism or merely to fight the most basic social advances. He was not protecting the mafia out of a deep admiration for them but because he was serving the American foreign policy that used brutal proxy armed groups to keep the populace in a state of fear and confusion.

This book has been haunting me: on one hand I am in awe of Falcone and Borsellino (and other brave prosecutors and policemen), who pursued this unbelievable investigation (their actions resulted in the maxi-trials of the 1980s) but they starkly stick out (and usually get murdered) in an environment of brutality, fear, and complete corruption of business and government.

The political dimension is clearly a source of stability for the mafia groups, and the impression that I got while reading it is that the political dimension is crucial for the reproduction of the mafia itself, the mafia forming part of the mediation between sectors of the political class and the public they represent, enforcers of those who will assent to their enforcement. The difficulty that this political dimension poses is made clear in almost every instance when Falcone decides to collaborate with groups with known mafia interests or even personal interests that are agnostic of the mafia. Another interesting point presented, presumably not on purpose since the author appears to be some kind of smug liberal, is the larger scale of the political dimension. It also resituates the mafia from being some sort of font of political power to an agent that plays a political role, reclaiming proceeds of the social-democratic welfare state for the bourgeoisie.

What Stille's book really is though is a tribute to all those who long waged a thankless and, at times, seemingly hopeless fight for justice against the mafia and its masters in government.

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two heroic Italian prosecutors, mounted an extraordinary legal campaign against the Sicilian mafia during the 1980s. Amidst such lawlessness, Falcone and Borsellino put together the Palermo maxi-trial, a titanic anti-mafia case that required the construction of an elaborate concrete bunker courtroom and ultimately led to an incredible 344 convictions. Writing about the eve of the maxi-trial, he describes how the prosecutors and their families were confined for their own safety on an island known as "the Alcatraz of Italy." It was, Stille writes, "a telling indication of the upside-down nature of life in Sicily on the eve of the maxi-trial: mafia fugitives moved freely about Palermo while government prosecutors had to live in prison for their own protection." Fighting the good fight put both men in a bad spot with both the lawbreakers and the lawmakers. Ultimately, Stille's book is great not because he tells this story, but because he makes us care. Falcone and Borsellino come off as principled but pragmatic, saintly but shrewd; Stille makes their goodness real and compelling.

I really enjoyed Stille's later book, about Berlusconi, The Sack of Rome. This book likewise featured a super-important figure of post-war Italian political history: Giovanni Falcone. I just couldn't get into this book, even though Falcone was such an admirable, amazing person: he was an anti-mafia Sicilian prosecuting magistrate who was eventually murdered by the mafia in 1992 (they blew up the highway he was driving on (!)). For better or worse (mostly worse), lots of people (1) make mafia jokes to me when they learn I'm Italian, or (2) romanticize stuff like The Godfather and so on.