It’s usually assumed that organised crime is a network of unqualified evil: murderous, recklessly greedy, the enemy of all human values and all hopes for better lives. Glenny’s book is a warning against such a simple view. No, big gangsters are not nice people: they get what they want through the threat or ultimate use of violence and blackmail. And it’s obvious that their operations can wreck the lives of millions through addiction or – as in the Balkans or Colombia – through the equipping and financing of local wars. But are the mobs and mafias really Public Enemy Number One? It would be shrewder to call them Government Enemy Number One: they are formations that deprive a state of revenue, of the monopoly of violence and law enforcement, and sometimes of international respect. The public, by contrast, may find them less dreadful – often, in fact, less dreadful than the governments that are supposed to be serving and protecting their citizens.
Neal Ascherson reviews Misha Glenny's McMafia: Crime without Frontiers in the LRB with characteristic acumen.