Nobody will listen. Nobody will believe. You know what I mean? This Cosa Nostra, it's like a second government. It's too big.

—Joe Valachi

AT the beginning of the decade, even J. Edgar Hoover denied its existence. Its structure was a mystery, and if it had a name, no one on the outside was sure of what it was. Yet, almost unnoticed, it exerted a profound impact on American life. It still does. Small wonder that Valachi, the thug-turned-informer, doubted that anybody would believe or care when he talked about an organization called La Cosa Nostra.

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