Cover image for Wiseguy : life in a Mafia family
Wiseguy : life in a Mafia family
Publication Information:
New York : Simon and Schuster, c1985.
Physical Description:
256 p. ; 25 cm.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Item Note
Book 364.15 PILEGGI 1
Book 92 HIL 1 .SOURCE. 3/86 I.7621
Book HV6248.H453P54 1985 1

On Order

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is a riveting account of organized crime as a way of life. The ``wiseguy'' (mob parlance for a street-level hoodlum) is Henry Hill, 30-year veteran of a Brooklyn strong-arm branch of the Luchese crime family, who turned against and helped convict his former associates five years ago and entered the Federal Witness Protection Program. Pileggi, a crime reporter for New York writing here with Hill's cooperation, does a superb job of re-creating the gangster's career, from his early days as an errand boy (at 12) to racketeer Paulie Vario in Brooklyn's BrownsvilleEast New York section, to his pivotal roles in a Boston College point-shaving scandal and the $6-million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport in 1978. Hill's story becomes an extraordinary vantage on a demimonde that lives a high, violent, score-to-score life in which car theft, hijacking-to-order, credit-card scams, cigarette smuggling, and other hustles and schemes are as workaday as 9-to-5 at the office. Literary Guild featured alternate. Foreign rights: Sterling Lord. January 30 (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Crime does pay--and well, most of the time, according to this unsentimental profile of a lower-echelon hoodlum turned informant. In matter-of-fact style, Pileggi (an investigative reporter for New York magazine) tells the story of Henry Hill, whose for-the-record existence ended at age 36 when he entered the Justice Department's Federal Witness Protection Program. Before that 1980 day, Hill had enjoyed a consistently prosperous career as a street soldier (or wise guy) for Paul Vario, an aging underboss in the Brooklyn-based mob headed by Gaetano Lucchese. Sicilian ancestry (on his mother's side) gained Hill entr‚e into the rackets before he was a teen-ager. The Mafia, however, seems not to be an equal-opportunity employer, and lack of an Italian surname precluded his advancement. Bootleg cigarettes, hijacked cargoes, stolen credit cards, bookmaking, loan-sharking, and a wealth of other illegal enterprises nonetheless provided Hill with a steady flow of easy money. Thanks to a no-show job (as a union bricklayer), Hill managed to live an ostensibly normal suburban life with his wife (a nice Jewish girl from Long Island who seems to have viewed her husband as a good provider with odd business associates) and two daughters. There were risks as well as rewards in Hill's violent, frequently murderous underworld; his luck began running out in the mid-1970's when he was sentenced to a 10-year term (for extortion) in a federal penitentiary. Once out of prison (where he continued to ply his illicit trades), Hill defied a godfatherly ban on trafficking in narcotics. Soon a cocaine addict himself, Hill began bribing Boston College basketball players in a point-shaving scam. Though not directly involved, Hill also had guilty knowledge of the Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport, a $6-million caper that produced a double-digit body count, but no important convictions. Arrested on drug charges, Hill soon learned that Vario had not only deserted him but also authorized his murder. Aware that Hill knew, literally, where the bodies were buried, law-enforcement officials made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Five years later, he's still testifying for Strike Force prosecutors against his old accomplices. Through Pileggi, who presents Hill's inside account of organized crime largely without comment, he continues to do so. Instructive, but no great breakthrough for the genre. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s Henry Hill aspired ``to be a gangsterto be a wise guy.'' This book chronicles Hill's criminal successes beginning with his being a gofer for neighborhood mobster to his part in the 1978 $6-million Lufthansa Airlines robbery. Smuggling, hijacking, union racketeering, credit card fraud, robbery, bribery, drug dealing, prison, marriage, and assorted girlfriends take up most of Hill's time and this story. The author may have faithfully portrayed his subject but neither Hill nor any of his activities provokes much interest. The result is a plodding, episodic account which would have made a better magazine article than book. Hill's career ends with his becoming the ultimate wise guy as an informer under the Federal Witness Program. Jerry Maioli, Western Library Network, Olympia, Wash. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.