ideas and

Home | Books and Movies | Marketplace | Essays and Anecdotes | Thoughts on the News | About Us


Donnie Brasco by Joseph D. Pistone, with Richard Woodley

Retail stores normally hide their true crime section in a stack of sensational, and poorly written, paperbacks.  There is, however, a handful of thrilling first-person accounts of New York's mafia families.  Many of them are written by the federal agents who eventually brought down these powerful crime organizations.  Donnie Brasco is one such book, and it should be the first mafia book you read.  

Simply put, Donnie Brasco is the account of the FBI's most daring undercover operation inside the mob.  Special Agent Joseph Pistone began by posing as a small time jewel thief trying to pass on stolen merchandise in bars.  Soon he had obtained local sponsorship in Brooklyn.  Six years later, he almost became a "made man" within the Bonanno family.  During that time, he subverted crime operations in New York, Miami, and Milwaukee.  

This is also a highly personal story of the trust Brasco established with mob bosses, captains (or capos), and ordinary thugs. Brasco's ability to bring in new business opportunities led him higher and higher within the crew of a respected capo, Sonny Black.  It was Sonny's trust that was most difficult to break.  But in the end, even Sonny came to realize that they were two soldiers on opposite sides of a fight, and Brasco had gotten the better of him.  

Other mafiosi didn't see take it so well.  The five New York crime families ordered Special Agent Pistone's assassination with a contract worth $500,000, a contract that has kept Pistone and his family in hiding since 1982.

Along with the intrigue of mafia life, Donnie Brasco reveals every mafia stereotype before they became stereotypes.  Brasco is indoctrinated to a life of flashy clothes, gang rivalries, hit men, and even criminal camaraderie between the mobsters.  

There is also the comical side of working undercover.  While on a trip to Miami, Brasco takes his fellow gangsters on a boat later used during the famous ABSCAM bribery sting of Washington politicians.  When the mobsters find out weeks later about the boat, they warn Brasco that his friend in Miami might be involved with the FBI.   

Donnie Brasco is remarkably well written.  It is a no-nonsense and detailed account of an exceptional special agent's fight against the mob.  It doesn't get bogged down in the legal struggle with the mafia.  Instead, it focuses on the long personal sacrifice that nearly crippled an entire crime family.  

Visit your local used bookstore for a hardback copy of Donnie Brasco.  It is worth the search. 

Good hardback copies (pictured above left) of Donnie Brasco are readily available in many used bookstores.  Otherwise, it is still available in paperback (pictured above right) in most retail book stores.



Get a free book through ideas and

Here's something we have found to be very surprising - our readers absolutely adore our mafia stories, picking our reviews for Boss of Bosses and Donnie Brasco first and third among all of the book reviews in ideas and

We are happy that two of our favorite stories are also your favorite stories, so we would like to celebrate all of our stories by rewarding our readers.  The next ten people to e-mail us will receive the book of their choice from our Books Archive or from our Powells' City of Books Marketplace.  Our e-mail address is

You can e-mail us with your name, address, and your book selection...or you can do the following:

  • Register at our Powells City of Books Marketplace and create a wish list with the book of your choice.

  • Tell us how you found your way into ideas and

  • Send us an e-mail letting us know you are ready to receive your free book.

We have two restrictions in our book give away - one book per person, and we hold the right in choosing a paperback or hardback of the book of your choice.  Limited availabilities and out-of-print hardbacks cannot allow us to guarantee that we will be able to get our hands on anything but the most recent paperback editions. 

*     *     *

Thanks for looking around ideas and  Just don't stop there.  There is much more to see and read.  We have Osama Bin Laden in Thoughts on the News, the ever popular The Parachute on my Back, and the strange mix of our first video picks - Memento, Fall, and Party Girl.


Posted Saturday December 1, 2001.

Updated Sunday June 20, 2004.