Friday, February 10, 2017

Booknote: The Way of the Wiseguy

Joseph D. Pistone, The Way of the Wiseguy. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2004.  ISBN: 0-7624-18397.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, true crime, law enforcement, Mafia and the mob
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

The author, Joseph D. Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco, may be better known to readers from his previous books Donnie Brasco, which he wrote in 1988. That book went on to become a bestseller and a movie starring Johnny Depp in the title role. Now, decades later, Pistone goes back to the Mafia world in this newer book.

The Way of the Wiseguy is a collection of stories and anecdotes from the author's days undercover inside the Mafia and the lessons that  he learned. After the book's introduction, the book is organized into 34 short chapters with topics such as:

  • Wiseguys are not nice guys
  • Wiseguys and money
  • The Boss
  • Old Wiseguys and New Wiseguys
In addition, the book features an appendix with a transcript of some undercover surveillance audio. My edition even had a CD so you could listen along to the transcript if you wished. I would consider the appendix materials to be optional reading. Skipping them does not take away from the overall reading of the book.

The stories in the book range from amusing to dead serious. Wiseguys are definitely a breed apart, and they live by a set of very specific rules. They are rules passed down from wiseguy to wiseguy, and now Pistone has put many of them in a book for us to get a glimpse at  their world. The book is entertaining overall. The chapters are fairly short reads, so this is a book you can pick up and go. For fans of the previous book and the film, you get more trivia and details on some of the characters they have met before. If nothing else, the book gives a look at a world few outside it get to see. I really liked it as it even had a few lessons for regular life.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading  notes:

Donnie asks his mentor Lefty what is the advantage of being a wiseguy:

"Lefty looks at me like I'm the world's biggest moron. He gets excited and jumps out of his chair and starts yelling and waving his arms, 'What are you, fucking crazy?' he says. 'Are you fucking nuts? When you're a wiseguy, you can steal, you can cheat, you can lie, you can kill people--and it's all legitimate'" (9). 

A life lesson from wiseguys that more of us can learn and use:

"You can usually get what you want by being direct, forceful, and unrelenting-- you'll find most wither in the face of such resolve.

Realize that confrontation is not always a bad thing, and you'll get more out of life." (70).

Turns out living in a wiseguy neighborhood could be safer for you. . .mostly:

"So, if you find yourself suddenly living in a neighborhood dominated by wiseguys, count your blessings. You might have to put up with  the occasional blood-drenched mob war. But otherwise, the crime rate is going to plummet" (78). 

On getting respect, again applicable to us regular folks:

"In life, you will be accorded precisely the respect that you demand for yourself. Once you learn that lesson, you are way ahead of the game" (103). 

Distrust is not a bad defense mechanism, and in the current climate, perhaps more necessary:

"I have seen too much deceit, too much scurrilous behavior, too many truly evil people. Let me get to know you for a while, then I'll decide if I like you. That may sound a little harsh, but what can I say? I've seen the world from a different angle than most people, seen its ugly underbelly up close. When you spend time around wiseguys, you learn that trust is a luxury you really can't afford" (144). 

Interestingly enough, wiseguys love the film Donnie Brasco:

"Who cares what Roger Ebert thinks. My movie got thumbs up from guys who cut off thumbs for a living" (149).

So, according to the author, what can you get from his book:

"Maybe a little insight into the darker side of human nature, into the crazy impulses we all manage to control but that wiseguys let run wild. Maybe a little better understanding of a rich part of this country's history. Maybe nothing. Like I said, I'm not here to push any lessons  on anybody" (195). 

What stuck with the author from the experience, a lesson more of us can heed and apply in our lives:

"The one thing that did stick with me long after I ceased being Donnie Brasco was the wiseguy attitude. Not backing down from confrontations, standing up for yourself, taking no shit, cutting corners here and there. I'm not talking about acting like a tough guy or throwing your weight around or doing anything illegal or unethical. I'm talking about being someone who understands how the world works and makes it work for him. Nobody's sucker. A guy who knows his way around" (196). 

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