Book Reviews


Underboss -- Sammy the Bull Gravano's 
Story of Life in the Mafia

by Peter Maas

Review by Rich Sheppard


"...'Underboss' author Peter Maas took the easy route - he sat down with a tape recorder and let Mr. Gravano rant..."

Anyone who has already read "Gotti - Rise and Fall" by Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain really has no need to get this book. There are few new revelations in "Underboss," and the "Gotti" book is a more exciting read. Capeci and Mustain's "Gotti" book, to name just one instance, offers a far better account of the intricate investigation and scheming that went into bringing down the mob and the betrayals within the "borgatas."

"Underboss" author Peter Maas took the easy route - he sat down with a tape recorder and let Mr. Gravano rant, combined these quotes with extensive borrowings from "Gotti Rise and Fall," gave it a catchy title, and sent it off to a publisher. If readers are interested in Sammy the Bull's self-serving apologia for his sudden "conversion" from sinister mobster to neon yellow canary, then this book might appeal. Mr. Gravano is a text-book example of a tough guy who exists for years and years on his reputation and willingness to use sucker-punch violence, a reputation well-earned but never tested; after all, who challenges the mob? Another "Underworld" disappointment is the account of the dramatic shooting of "Big Paul" Castellano. There's no additional "inside" revelations about this incredible event in mob history. If you've read "Gotti - Rise and Fall," you know all the interesting details of this story. In the end, for all of his hard-guy talk, Mr. Gravano realizes that he might have to pay a penalty for his crimes. Rather than go to prison, he breaks his Cosa Nostra oath of omerta (silence) - cleverly rationalizing this sell-out by blaming his entire predicament on John Gotti.

John Gotti is no angel; however, he might just as easily have sold out Sammy the Bull and walked - but he didn't. Mr. Gravano's account of his cooperation with authorities to put Gotti away and save his own skin gets just a few pages at the end of the book. These obviously are not Sammy's proudest moments, since the bulk of his unworthy book is a screed of boastfulness about sucker-punch violence and theft - which were the genuine reasons he was facing life in prison. The question Sammy the Bull never addresses -- let alone answers -- is: If John Gotti was such an evil man, what the heck was Sammy doing associating with him? And when they get arrested, the fact that Gotti was such a bad man entitles Sammy to redeem his own violent past by selling out? In an epilogue, Sammy the Bull Gravano now strolls the streets of America, claiming that he's a "man" because he's not making any special efforts to hide from his former associates. This reads as the weakest section among an entirely weak effort by Peter Maas -- Gravano's final attempt to justify his actions and act the tough guy; nonetheless still in hiding! Sammy the Bull scarcely did an honest day's work in his life. It's fitting that his co-writer followed this course in telling his story. If you haven't read "Gotti Rise and Fall" and have no desire to, go ahead and read "Underworld.". Otherwise, if you can read just one, read "Gotti Rise and Fall."