Animal Politicum

'Politicum animal est homo, politicum, id est sociale et communicativum.' Saint Thomas, Com. in Ethic. Nicom. i. 7, 1097

Category: Books I have read

Books I have read #002: Storia della Camorra & Gomorrah [Greek editions]


Two of my fondest memories from last Christmas in Greece were these two books on Camorra, Napoli’s local brand of mafiosi.

Storia della Camorra (Η Ιστορία της Καμόρα) is an immensely interesting and well-researched history book by Naples native journalist/ writer Vittorio Paliotti. Chock-full of historical documents, anecdotal stories and the most minute detail on Camorra practice and ritual, Storia della Camorra is so well-written it reads like a charm from the beginning to the end. It is one of those few books that will delight both history and literature buffs equally.

The cherry on top is that the Greek translation of Storia della Camorra uses old Greek street lingo, which gives the book an eerily authentic feel.

As there is no English translation of this wonderful book, interested English speakers will have to brush up on their Greek- or Italian- to experience it.

My only gripe with the book was that it dedicated too little space to what the Camorra has been up to since its revival in the 1970s. Good thing I had bought Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah in the meantime.

Gomorrah (Γόμορρα – Ταξίδι στην οικονομική αυτοκρατορία και στο όνειρο για κυριαρχία της Καμόρρα) is the book that sent its author, Roberto Saviano, into hiding and police protection after death threats by Camorra godfathers, understandably angry at the book’s content – for this book has a lot to be angry about if you are a Camorra godfather.assets_LARGE_t_1581_1360100_type11389

Saviano, combining fact, personal experience and  prose, delivers a scathing indictment of a book: he deconstructs Camorra’s modern operational structure, sheds light on its links with the Italian economy and society, names and shames major Camorra figures and most importantly, highlights the implications of Camorra’s operations for Naples, Italy and the wider European area. This, I believe, is the biggest contribution of his book to the debate on organised crime in Italy and Europe: illustrating how the activity of organisations like Camorra can extend far beyond its local context and affect everyone from Neapolitan drug addicts to Chinese labourers – and even a number of Saviano’s Northern European readers. In today’s globalised world, Saviano tells us, there is no such thing as localised crime. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

English speakers who haven’t checked it out yet need to head over to PanMacmillan to get their selves a copy; Greek speakers had better invest in the Patakis edition, an excellent job both in terms of translation and book binding.


Books I have read #001: Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq

James R. Arnold’s Jungle of Snakes is essentially a compilation of case studies of famous counterinsurgency (COIN) battles, meant to “provide readers with a historical foundation so that informed citizens can assess how the [“Long War”] fight is going”. Arnold accomplishes the task and identifies patterns of victory and defeat by examining two successful (the Philippines after 1898 and Malaya 1948–1960) and two failed military campaigns (Algeria 1954–1962 and Vietnam).

Jungle of Snakes cover

Analysis of said conflicts leads Arnold to interesting insights with regard to COIN operations, such as the importance of providing security to local populations, knowledge of local language and culture, and long-standing commitment and reforms “tackling the roots of insurgency”.

Having read – and enjoyed – Arnold’s work, I can’t help but think that Jungle of Snakes could have been so much more with a bit more focus and a lot more content. Yet this is what I would have wanted from this book. Arnold wanted to write something digestible that serves as a well-written introduction to both counterinsurgency conflict and the specific campaigns- and in this aspect, he succeeded resoundingly.