Cover image for A man of honor : the autobiography of Joseph Bonanno
A man of honor : the autobiography of Joseph Bonanno
Publication Information:
New York : Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Physical Description:
416 pages, [32] p. of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Book 921 BONA 1

On Order



"Friendships, connections, family ties, trust, loyalty, obedience-this was the 'glue' that held us together." These were the principles that the greatest Mafia "Boss if Bosses," Joseph Bonnano, lived by. Born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Bonnano found his future amid the whiskey-running, riotous streets of Prohibition America in 1924, when he illegally entered the United States to pursue his dreams. By the age of only twenty-six, Bonnano became a Don. He would eventually take over the New York underworld, igniting the "Castellammarese War," one of the bloodiest Family battles ever to hit New York City... Now, in this candid and stunning memoir, Joe Bonanno-likely a model for Don Corleone in the blockbuster movie The Godfather-takes readers inside the world of the real Mafia. He reveals the inner workings of New York's Five Families-Bonanno, Gambino, Profaci, Lucchese, and Genovese-and uncovers how the Mafia not only dominated local businesses, but also influenced national politics. A fascinating glimpse into the world of crime, A Man of Honor is an unforgettable account of one of the most powerful crime figures in America's history.

Reviews 1

Kirkus Review

Where judgment of my conduct is concerned, I'll take my chances with God."" That's really the bottom line of this no-regrets (but no-big-revelations) autobiography of the man who served for close to 40 years as ""Father"" of a New York-based organized crime family. Now 78 and in retirement (though still appealing a recent conspiracy rap--his first conviction ever), Bonanno paints himself as ""the last survivor of an extinct species and of a bygone way of life."" He may well be right. Born into a ""leading family"" of the Castellammare area of Sicily but orphaned at 16, then expelled from an Italian merchant marine academy three years later (for refusing to wear a Mussolini-mandated black shirt, he says), the young Bonanno landed in America, an illegal immigrant, and rapidly made his way up through the ranks of the Maranzano ""family"" amid the chaos of the gangland ""Castellammare War,"" becoming Father of his own family in 1931 at the tender age of 26. Bonanno always considered himself a man ""of the old Tradition,"" basically in the ""people business,"" whose family operated on certain firm principles irrespective of what the law said or where a fast buck could be made: e.g., no dealing in narcotics or prostitution, no shooting of police or reporters. As the decades passed, this conservative style became less in tune with that of other members of the ""Commission,"" the quasi-official ruling body of the Sicilian crime families. Commission members had to be on their toes: quite apart from the slings and arrows of normal political maneuvering (charted in detail here), one could easily wind up dead. Bonanno's impressions of some of the dramatis personae: Capone--a non-Sicilian and ""never representative of our Tradition,"" though at times a ""jolly fellow""; Luciano--""the forerunner of things to come""; Gambino--""a squirrel of a man, a servile and cringing individual""; Valachi--""an unreliable interpreter of events."" By the Sixties, Bonanno felt that the old Tradition ""deteriorated. . . and became a byword for gangsterism. . . a grotesque parody of itself,"" and he began spending more time at the Tucson home to which, after several heart attacks, he later retired. Readers looking for a who-shot-who chronology will be disappointed, and Bonanno confesses to nothing (he calls his recent conviction a case of ""speculation based on circumstantial evidence""). But there are some fine small snapshots in this personal album: the young Bonanno taking his future father-in-law for a spin in his roadster, with his bride-to-be relegated to the rumble seat; the kidnapped Bonanno interrogated for months in a remote farmhouse by his cousin, the Buffalo family leader, an erstwhile Commission ally; the on-the-lam Bonanno, cornered by his own German Shepherd, who no longer recognizes him; the devout Bonanno, chatting with Billy Graham (""one of my favorite spiritual figures""). Despite some stiff prose here and there: valuable as an insider's political history of the New York mob--and impressive as a personal statement by a man who, within the context of his Tradition, feels he has earned the book's title. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.