Acton Institute Powerblog

Saviano’s Gomorra and the Plague of Crime and Corruption in Italy

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When thinking of southern Italy, Americans probably imagine the Amalfi Coast, Mount Vesuvius, and lemon groves, but to the average Italian the picture is of rotting garbage in the streets of Naples and the Mafia. These realities have been strikingly portrayed in Roberto Saviano’s book Gomorra (ET), which is also the basis of a newly-released motion picture in Italy.

Saviano is a young journalist who clearly describes the dark side of his country. It is probably the most courageous “j’accuse” ever cried out against the Camorra, the Mafia of Naples. In order to write this book, the author disguised himself, took on another identity and infiltrated “The System”, as the Camorra is known in Naples.

Saviano’s reporting has won several awards. His book has been translated in 42 countries and has been a best-seller in Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Finland. The New York Times classified it as one of the best books of 2007 and The Economist added it to its list of 100 best books of 2008. In Italy, it is considered the best book of the year and has sold over a million copies.

In chilling passages, the author explains the power of the organization and names the families, alliances, trafficking, corruption and misery surrounding the Camorra’s world. It is a shocking picture, even for those Italians who are well-aware of the criminal organizations infesting Italy. These corrupt networks seem impossible to defeat, a parallel country within the country.

It is incredible to recount the Camorra murders in Naples, nearly 4,000 in the last 30 years, numbers that can be compared to a war. Even more astonishing are the figures concerning the economy of this international organization that, together with the other criminal organizations, accounts 7 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product, more than $127 billion in a year.

The historic, political and social reasons that have lead to this phenomenon can be summarized in one word: “corruption”. Never in any other European country has there been such a wide scale and longstanding connection between crime and political corruption.

But thanks to this book and civic movements that are starting to rebel against this kind of society, Italians are developing a deeper awareness of the problem. The film version of Gomorra has gotten off to a great start at the box office, with more than €2 million in ticket sales in less than three days.

The movie brilliantly summarizes the book and is courageously filmed in Scampia, the dangerous Neapolitan neighborhood where the story takes place. The movie is also showing at the Cannes Film Festival where the international press applauded Saviano’s courage and the courage of Italians like Saviano (who has been living with constant police protection since October 2006) who courageously face truth and stand up to crime and corruption.

Paola Fantini


  • Clare Krishan

    Shame the same can’t be said about the USA – Acton is shamefacedly silent on the fiscal shenanigans in the corridors of power in Washington DC, our bureaucrats can make more head roll than any commora (Philly, where I live, had more murders in the last 10 years, Naples sounds positively idyllic in comparison, and from what I can see on the TV once they clear up the garbage nice homes and flourishing businesses abound, that CANNOT be said for many neighborhoods in Philly, while our mafiosi compete with all manner of corrupt city councillors and state reps for a place at the feeding trough, financed by wage taxes from the largest employer, non-profit University of Pennsylvania and its associated cash-cow Healthcare System)

    PLEASE ACTON I BEG YOU FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME we need you to start addressing the intellectual stuff afflicting us HERE at home. Read the thread at Dallas Morning News’ Rod Dreher CrunchyCon blog for ideas of the kind of contribition we people of faith would like to see you making…

  • Paola Fantini

    Dear Claire,
    Thank you for your comment, I am sorry to hear such distressing news about your own town. However, I can assure that what is afflicting Naples is not just a garbage problem and there are no flourishing businesses around the city but activities that are folding down and a lot of misery. If I may humbly suggest, I would think twice before calling such a tragic picture “idyllic”.
    I would also like to add that since I have been working at Acton, I have always seen this think tank address very challenging topics concerning the US. I do not understand what your point is?

  • Jehanne Marchesi

    To get the whole picture one should also read “La Casta” by Sergio Rizzo and Gian Antonio Stella (I don’t know whether it has been translated into English). Corruption and waste are rife – though there are also wonderful people in this country – kind, humorous, with strong family solidarity. One sees it more easily in smaller towns. The worst seems to folat to the top in the big cities. But this is probably true throughout the world.

  • Paola Fantini

    Dear Claire,
    I am sorry to hear such distressing news about your own town. However, I would think twice before labelling Naples as idyllic, especially if your convictions are based on what you see on TV. The situation is so bad that the government has decided to seek the aid of the civil guard. The movie “Gomorra” won the Gran Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival, the international jury headed by an american, Mr. Sean Penn, found the story brilliant and shocking at the same time. If you have time I suggest you read the book to get a better picture of the situation. You might reconsider your point of view.

    Moreover, since I have been working for this think tank, I have always noted concern for serious US and international topics, I do not understand what your point is ?


  • Ma’am,

    As a resident of Casal di Principe, The town the author is from and living in the suburbs of Naples. You could absolutely never ever, ever, ever in a million years compare it to anything in the states. In the neighborhood of Scampia in Naples there is at least 1 murder every day. If you so much as drive through there you seriously put yourself at grave risk of death. After living here I will never be afraid of any neighborhood in America. While most of the Camorra crime here is amongst themselfs, so I feel safe as an American, no orginization in America compares to them. They control everything here in Naples. The Prime Minister has deployed the Army to here to try in a futile attemt to control the problem. It would be easier to completely purge the whole United States of all orginized crime and corrupt politicians than to even put a dent in the Camorra here in Naples.