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The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The Godfather (1969)

by Mario Puzo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Godfather (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,664129440 (4.16)215
Recently added bylaraja, LitaVore, private library, Cubanana
  1. 10
    The Sicilian by Mario Puzo (longway)
  2. 10
    Gem of the prairie : an informal history of the Chicago underworld by Herbert Asbury (ashleylauren)
  3. 00
    Leopard in the Sun by Laura Restrepo (joririchardson)
    joririchardson: Colombian literature that could be described as "The Godfather" re-written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
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    Stiletto by Harold Robbins (ashleylauren)
  5. 01
    The Pack by C. W. Schultz (GeekyRandy)
    GeekyRandy: No real relevance. Both are about gangsters and comes from a neutral POV. "The Pack" is also obviously influenced by "The Godfather". I love both books, perhaps you will too.

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Mario Puzo

The Godfather

Signet, Paperback [1978].

12mo. 479 pp.

First published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 10 March 1969.
First Signet Printing, November 1978.
51st printing per number line, undated.


It is a strange claim, encountered now and then online, that Puzo’s novel is mediocre stuff elevated to masterpiece by Coppola and Co. This is, of course, nonsense. I am not saying this as an opinion. It is a scientific fact that can be verified by anybody at any time anywhere in the world. Virtually the complete movie The Godfather, as well as the flashbacks from The Godfather: Part II, are taken straight from this novel, including a great deal of the dialogue verbatim. The adaptation is a masterpiece of abridgment and modification, but it is not here the place to discuss it. Obviously, however, a great movie cannot be derived like that from a mediocre novel.

It’s not enough to do something with style. You have to do it with the right style. Puzo’s style is the perfect one for the type of book he wrote. It is bawdy and brutal, hardboiled and cynical, without any pretensions to be “literature” (whatever that means). A melodramatic or a mincing style would never work in a violent story like that and Puzo knows better than to use one. He is blunt yet stylish when he has to describe raw brutality in a matter-of-fact way, but on occasion he can also produce memorable, indeed haunting, imagery and subtle evocations of mood. For example:

The two big men were beating Moonan to jelly. They did so with frightening deliberation, as if they had all the time in the world. They did not throw punches in flurries but in timed, slow-motion sequences that carried the full weight of their massive bodies. Each blow landed with a splat of flesh splitting open.

The hedges, flower beds and grasses were as carefully manicured as a movie star’s nails.

The family of Genco Abbandando, wife and three daughters dressed in black, clustered like a flock of plump crows on the white tile floor of the hospital corridor.

Nothing was more calming, more conducive to reason, than the atmosphere of money.

But the style of a novel, whatever its felicity to evoke atmosphere or describe action, is no good at all if it can’t serve to create alive, complex and believable characters. Puzo shines here, too. He makes the Godfather and his family so much more than mere criminals. Somewhere in the middle of the book, you might be surprised how much you have begun to care for them. It’s easy to make virtuous and timid people “likable” on paper (which simply means that smug and stupid readers can identify with them). It’s a lot harder with disreputable, mentally unstable or downright psychopathological characters. But if Highsmith and Nabokov can make you empathise with a deadly impersonator and a paedophilic lecher, respectively, so can Puzo with members of the “mafia”.

Puzo doesn’t glamorise criminals. He humanises them. That’s a huge difference. The Godfather is a family story about a father and his three sons. The crime and the violence are incidental, hardly anything more than a colourful background. The so-called “all-out war of the Five Families” is barely mentioned. There is a good deal of violence, always graphically described, but it’s never gratuitous. The main characters are not heroes to root for relentlessly, but flawed human beings in tough situations to sympathise with. They are pleasantly ambiguous and contradictory, especially the two main figures, Vito and Michael Corleone.

The title character, often called simply the Don, is surely one of the most extraordinary creatures ever put on paper. Men have been sent to kill him ever since he was twelve, but he is still alive and well. He is a man of genius and a man of vision, not the usual puppet but a supreme puppeteer, the hand that pulls the strings and has become iconic on countless front covers. Instead of obeying the laws of society, he condemns them as unjust and creates his own. But it must be stressed that his own laws are not arbitrary. Far from it! They are based on strict moral principles.

The Godfather is not just a self-made millionaire: these are common. He is a self-made wielder of godlike power, and that is something rare indeed. He doesn’t waste time with threats, or energy with anger and grief. He reasons, he plans, he acts; swiftly and ruthlessly. He values friendship above everything else save the family. He sticks to a brutal and primitive system of mutual favours, but so much more effective, and often more just, than the court of law in “civilised” societies that it’s hard not feel certain admiration for it. And yet, though he is almost god, he is not a very good father, he has some curiously old-fashioned, not to say childish, ideas about sex and marriage, and occasionally he has to pay a heavy price for his lack of foresight.

But the Godfather is not the only reason for the existence of this book. Perhaps he is not even the major reason. The gist of the novel is Michael’s transformation from a college boy and a war hero (neither of his brothers would even dream of going to college or fighting for his country) to a new Don capable of things the old one never would have considered, much less done. The son takes his father’s art and squares it. He makes a masterpiece of the old man’s precept that you should always let friends underestimate your virtues and enemies overestimate your faults.

The fascinating thing about Michael is that he is just as much, if not indeed more so, a victim of his Sicilian genes as he is of the circumstances. He was quite ready, in the beginning, to go back to college, finish it, marry his (oh, what a scandal!) non-Italian girlfriend and live happily ever after as a law-abiding American. If the family crisis that turned him from an outsider into a member of the inner circle had happened a little later, the chances are that he would not have been involved in it. Or wouldn’t he? Perhaps the Godfather was nearer the truth when he used to say that each man has only one destiny.

All this is mesmerising to watch in the movie. But it’s even more compelling to read in the novel, courtesy of Mario Puzo’s brisk storytelling and incisive characterisation.

Of course it’s a great disadvantage to read this book if you know the movie quite well. The story is just as much the same as the characters are different. So here is a piece of free advice from a veteran: try to forget the movie while reading the book. In case you fail, as you probably will, here is some more advice.

In regard to the characters, the most awkward thing to get used to in the book is how much they talk. They have a passion to explain themselves. It is occasionally excessive. In the first chapter alone, Don Corleone talks twice more than his screen version in the complete film. On the whole, the book and the movie have different sets of characters. The outlines are the same, but the people on paper are vastly more complex, if perhaps less believable, than their simplified versions on the screen.

The Don and Michael, for example, are nothing like their cool and collected selves from the film who hardly ever raise their voice. Both are more volatile and more impulsive, even reckless. They talk more, they smile more, and they laugh more. Nor is Sonny, hardly a minor character, quite the dumb stud from the screen. He has his violent temper all right, but he also has brains and experience of which Coppola and Puzo robbed him in the script. Tom Hagen is a minor character on the screen and Johnny Fontaine is no character at all, but both are central to the book. Both are invested with flesh and blood, background and future. Sollozzo the Turk, another very minor character, is a lot more sinister here than the somewhat cartoonish version played by Al Lettieri. Kay Adams is a much stronger character than her feckless screen persona.

The greatest advantage of the book, as always, is the lots of background you simply can’t get on the screen – except in TV series which all too easily degenerate into soap operas. Puzo meticulously describes the Corleone empire, how it is built of the Don, a Consigliere, two caporegimes, and a number of “buffers”, “button men” and “muscles”; how far it extends into gambling, liquor, olive oil, construction, Hollywood and narcotics; how it works through bribes, blackmail and violence; and how it was forged in the dark ages of the Prohibition and the Great Depression. Puzo shows all this in a starkly realistic way, for instance in episodes omitted from the movie like the assassination of Fabrizio or the beating up of the two punks who had assaulted Bonasera’s daughter, or in vastly more detailed versions of minor parts of the film (e.g. Jack Woltz and the infamous horse head, the murder of Luca Brasi and many others).

No book is perfect and The Godfather is no exception. It has its faults, minor though they are on the whole. Puzo’s prose suffers from slight repetitiousness, physical appearance being the usual victim (there one or two “Cupid faces” too many), and occasional clumsiness in both narrative and dialogue. But neither is worth making a fuss about. Speaking of structure, the good deal of space dedicated to Johnny Fontaine (the whole Book II, chapter 26) and Lucy Mancini (the last chapter of Book V) is a bit hard to understand. Johnny is a fine opportunity to show the extremes to which the Godfather would go to for his godson, but there is little point in expanding his character further. As for Miss Mancini, she is the notorious lady “too big down there”. Mighty misfortune, no doubt, but I don’t quite see its relevance to the main story. The movie improved on the novel by cutting out these characters more or less completely.

Whatever your relationship with the movie, and never mind the faults just mentioned, try this book. Once you start reading, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 12, 2017 |
I seen and absolutely love this movie. When I saw this on the 1001 book list, I was super stoked to finally read it. Needless to say, I was sort of disappointed. Yes, the majority of it was in the movie however there were chapters in the book that I didn't understand why they had to be in there.

For the rest of the review, visit my blog at: http://angelofmine1974.livejournal.com/121683.html ( )
  booklover3258 | Feb 14, 2017 |
I can't believe it took me this long to read this book! I've seen the movie easily dozens of times, but not read this. AND, it was published the year I was born! What was I waiting for?

"He claimed that there was no greater natural advantage in life than having an enemy overestimate your faults, unless it was to have a friend underestimate your virtues."

Anyway, the genius of the movie is self-evident within these covers! A great deal of the movie is literally plucked from these pages - dialogue too! Book I is awesome, and Book III is the story of Vito Andolini - they storyline in Godfather II with Robert DeNiro as the young Don to be. I really liked the extra information about Genco Abbondando, the weird (my words) appearance of a "Coppola" character in Book I, and the extra background stories of Luca Brasi and Albert Neri. All of the stories about the Corleone family just rocked!

That brings me to my negatives. Book II was almost like filler, but for no reason. Johnny Fontane in Hollywood. Big whoop!?! Seriously, skip it and it absolutely won't matter to the Corleone storyline. And the lengthy bits about Lucy and her doctor? Why on earth are they in this book? So we can learn about reconstructive vaginal surgery? Wha, wha, what? Again, none of it mattered AT ALL to the main story! Puzo must have had some kind of page number minimum he felt he must reach, so vaginal surgery it is! Cut out Fontane, Lucy, and the doctor, and this would be one of the best books ever written!

I'm super glad I read this, and when I do re read it, I'll skip the parts that I mentioned and it will be epic! ( )
1 vote Stahl-Ricco | Feb 12, 2017 |
1969 book for my birthday challenge.

The Godfather was such an engrossing, and at times earthy, saga of the Corleone mafia family. Some characters were truly appalling, but eventually, "revenge is a dish best served cold". A mostly satisfying read!

I feel there is no need to add much more to this review -- I think I'm one of the few who had not read the book nor seen the movie -- and now I've got to watch the movie soon to see which version is better! ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Jan 28, 2017 |
I'm one of the few people I know that has not watched Francis Ford Coppola's film classic The Godfather. When a co-worker promised that "The movie was good, but the book was better," I decided to test the thesis.

And, indeed, I wonder if I'll ever need to even try the movie after reading The Godfather. As written by Mario Puzo, The Godfather is something that pulls you in, grasps you, and demands you pay attention. Pay attention as the Godfather builds his empire, plots against his rivals, and establishes plausible deniability, all set on a foundation of Sicilian honor, omerta, and business. Pay attention to a world where the highest value is loyalty and where blood is thicker than love, a chauvinistic world where men rule over their women and where women refrain from asking too many questions.

It's almost medieval. And yet, there are statements here, commentary by author Mario Puzo about the environment in which the Sicilian mafia like that of the Corleone family rose. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

The Godfather opens right in the middle of things. We are at the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzo. The whole family has gathered at "the mall" to celebrate. Here are the Don's sons: Sonny, who is mean, dangerous, and carnal; Fredo, the middle child destined for mediocrity; and Michael, the one most like his father, but straight-laced and, almost scandalously, a war hero in love with a non-Italian girl from New Hampshire. Also present is the rest of the cast of The Godfather: the caporegimes Clemenza and Tessio, the assassin/bodyguard Luca Brasi, and the consigliere, or advisor, to the Don, Tom Hagen, himself an oddity as the only non-Sicilian of the lot. Each is given a story in his or her own time, a backstory that makes the fabric of the tale colorful, sturdy and vibrant.

It is a highpoint for the Family. Favors are sought from the Don, and the Don is beneficent and gracious as he dispenses his largesse. And yet, peril threatens. The Family's power and wealth come from its control of the vices of gambling, prostitution, and alcohol in various boroughs of New York and a new vice is arriving that will force the Corleone's to consider the future: illicit drugs. When the Don decides he does not want to leverage the Family's control of politicians, police, and judges to participate in the drug trade, a bloody war between the Sicilian mafia families begins that guides the narrative for the rest of the book. The war, and the Corleone's reach, will extend from New York to Hollywood and will track the rise of Las Vegas from the desert to become the gambling and entertainment destination that it is today. Here we will see scenes and read lines famous even to those who have not seen the movie: "go to the mattresses," "make an offer he cannot refuse," and find a when a horse head is a threat that cannot be ignored, among others.

It many ways, the story is sordid, as are its characters. And yet, Puzo gives reason to sympathize with the Don, with Michael, with Kay, and others. These characters are, before all else, humans and Puzo emphasizes the familial bonds that tie them. They are a group of individuals that will go to war for each other and that can trust each other with their lives. Even as Puzo manages to engage is characters in almost every vile and disgusting vice under the sun, he never loses track of the thread that keeps these individuals tied to each other and creates sympathy for characters that are as honest and true to what they claim to be as if they were modeled after real world individuals.

(Indeed, as I did a little reading about the history of the novel, I stumbled across claims that the character Johnney Fontane was allegedly modeled on Frank Sinatra, who himself was said to have close ties to the mafia. The story goes when Mario Puzo was introduced to Sinatra, the crooner refused to look at him or acknowledge him, standing only to yell at the author as he left. Whether true or not, it sure makes for interesting reading, and it's had to read certain sections of The Godfather and not see similarities in Johnney Fontane to Frank Sinatra.)

All this leads back to a question that arose as I arrived at about the halfway point in the book. By then I found my sense of disgust at the lack of moral compunction of many of the characters begin to overwhelm Puzo's gripping narrative. Here were characters that would betray or beat their wives on their wedding night, greedily fueded and kill to establish and strengthen "business" holdings--really just control of gambling "books," prostitution, and smuggling rackets--and did not bat an eyelash as pornography, pedophilia, adultery (and its unmarried companion fornication), abortion, public corruption, alcoholism, sex operations, assassinations, and more. With heroes like these, who needs antagonists? And, indeed, why keep reading? Where is the redeemable protagonist? I began to realize that at the center of The Godfather we find the morally upright Michael, the man who will not be part of the family business, but who will go his own way, become a war hero, and become, perhaps, something better and more honest.

Or will he? As the story unfolds and Puzo takes opportunities to spin side tales of woe and wickedness, the Corleone's saga becomes increasingly Michael's, and it is not a story of redemption, but of tragic fall, for a tragedy it is. In the end, The Godfather is a story of moral decline even as the Corleone's climb to new heights. The reality of the seduction of power, in both Puzo's and Lord Acton's estimation, is that it corrupts.

If Puzo tells us nothing else, it is that the price of loyalty is that one must sometimes give up other virtues for the security and strength that comes with imposing your visions and reality on the world. But this isn't all that Puzo has to say. In here also is an examination

But this isn't all. In The Godfather is also is an examination of the time and place that gave rise to the mafia, the influx of migrants in pre-Great Depression America, the corrupt and unpoliced police, and the powerful doing what they will while the weak did what they could. Into this chaotic milieu come individuals like Vito Corleone, fleeing decaying "Old World" Sicily, find opportunity and find themselves at odds with the law as they begin by defending the weak only to become the strong man they once opposed. In a time where the rule of law and increased transparency has made public and police corruption much more the exception than the rule, it is perhaps hard to imagine that there was ever a time when it was different; and yet, in the pages of Puzo's bestseller lies a world that is entirely credible and, perhaps, just as likely as it seems.

As literature goes, Puzo's style is heavily expository, but not in a way that fails to recognize when dialogue and action should replace description and exposition. Puzo is telling a story, and it feels like a story is being told. It is a story that is unforgettable, as much for its cautionary lessons as for the sordid world that The Godfather seems to insist existed--exists?--in some version of 1940s and 1950s America. It is a tale that could belong in the past of any great family that has clawed its way to power by criminal means, only to begin the next generation clean and in respectability. It is a very American story, if not the one that fits the modern mythology.
( )
  publiusdb | Jan 10, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Puzo, Marioprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bart, PeterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bennett, HarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, Robert J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wijk, Johan vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Behind every great fortune there is a crime. - Balzac
For Anthony Cleri
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Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court No. 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451205766, Paperback)

The story of Don Vito Corleone, the head of a New York Mafia family, inspired some of the most successful movies ever. It is in Mario Puzo's The Godfather that Corleone first appears. As Corleone's desperate struggle to control the Mafia underworld unfolds, so does the story of his family. The novel is full of exquisitely detailed characters who, despite leading unconventional lifestyles within a notorious crime family, experience the triumphs and failures of the human condition. Filled with the requisite valor, love, and rancor of a great epic, The Godfather is the definitive gangster novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:05 -0400)

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A searing novel of the Mafia underworld, The godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and the powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor that was passed on from father to son. With its themes of the seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and family allegiance, it resonated with millions of readers across the world-and became the definitive novel of the virile, violent subculture that remains steeped in intrigue, in controversy, and in our collective consciousness.… (more)

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