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Book Review: Donnie Brasco

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By coyote97
December 7, 2007

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Some of you may have seen the movie Donnie Brasco. It portrays the undercover operation of the FBI in which an FBI agent (played by Johnny Depp) infiltrates the mafia. I have always liked investigative action films.... ie. Serpico, The French Connection. Donnie Brasco the movie was o.k. I wouldn't call it brilliant or anything. But, it was entertaining and it told a great story.

But, I was interested in agent Joseph Pistone (the agent who posed as Donnie Brasco) after watching the movie. It was a pretty incredible story. This guy lived a life as a connected mafia associate for 5 years, rising to being nominated to be "made". I was interested in learning more about how he really pulled this off, how it impacted his family life, more details about the fruits of the operation in prosecutions. So, I sought out the book that the movie was based upon.

The story as outlined in the book is even more incredible than the movie. I was amazed in how he swindled these thugs.... the fine line he walked in looking legitimate while staying uninvolved. It was interesting hearing his account of deals he put together while depending on the bureaucracy of the FBI to get the funds he was promising or authority for certain activities. It was quite riveting hearing the detailed accounts of thinking on the fly, trying to decide the implications if he said one thing versus another. I can not imagine the daily tension he went under when he worried about getting whack during the war between family factions.

In so many ways, what he did was not fair to his family. His accounts of that are brief, but pointed. He was literally away from home weeks on end over a period of five years, getting home one to two days at a time. He commented that that is one lesson the FBI should take out of that first deep cover long range operation, that married men should not be the operatives.

The book really gives a great presentation of how these thugs work. It dispels the romanticism commonly attached to these dirtbags in other movies. What was funny to me was than in many fashions the infighting and squabbling within the family reminded me of office politics... with the obvious difference of squabbling work mates killing one another. But, it commonly revolved around similar ego motivated jealousy and clique mentality seen with gossip around the water cooler.

If you like crime investigation stuff.... it's a good book. It was quite entertaining, informative, and the good guys won. Over 100 convictions resulted either directly from the operation or from further operations that this operation laid the groundwork for. If you enjoyed the movie... the book is 10 times better.