Friendships and relationships overall can be a tricky thing. The moment we meet someone who inspires us, impresses us, entertains us, or even someone who a person instantly falls head over heels in love with, can be a special event which changes the course of a person’s life forever. Yet no matter how exciting this moment can be, there are friendships or relationships that can change someone not for the better, but for the worst. There are even times when those two types of friendships are tested, and the weight of betrayal and strife can become suffocating to those involved.

In author Rosemary Valenti Guarnera’s Me and the General, the author explores the life of Ralph Liguori, a man who grew up in early 20th century America and became good friends with the infamous Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and how their friendship grew, evolved, and was tested by a run-in with would-be-president Thomas E. Dewey. Covering everything from the tragic loss of his father at an early age, to the childhood discoveries he made during the roaring twenties and the foray into the seedier parts of the world participating in rackets during the Great Depression, the book showcases the unique friendship he held with one of 20th Century America’s most powerful and influential men and the man who would create what we know of modern-day American Mafiosos today.

The author did such a remarkable job of capturing the heart and history of this era of time and the events that took place within it. The attention to detail the author had in the delivery of this narrative, and the unique role that Ralph played in what would become one of the biggest prosecutions of a head mobster in the day was so fascinating. The pacing of the book really worked well here, first beginning with the infamous trial that started the life-changing events in Ralph’s life, and then focusing on seeing Ralph’s childhood and the defining moments that led to his joining of the racketeering game. Although they never really worked together in their line of work, the friendship that blossomed between Ralph and a then up-and-coming gangster, Lucky Luciano himself, was captivating, especially to see how their friendship evolved and held together over time. The imagery and atmosphere the author creates through her writing really made it feel like a cinematic narrative, albeit a non-fiction one, when reading through it, giving the readers a more engaging experience with the book.

This is the perfect read for those who enjoy non-fiction titles, especially those that involve history, memoirs, and in particular those with a fascination with American history and the formation of the modern-day Organized Crime Families that made up “The Commission.” As a fan of history and the study of mobsters and their influence on the world, this book did an amazing job of not only highlighting the founding father of the organized crime world as we know it today, but did so through the lens of a man who called Lucky his friend. The use of interviews and first-hand accounts from the author and Ralph were fantastic to see bring this story to life, as was the sheer volume of detail the author used to bring these events to life.

Memorable, thought-provoking, and engaging, author Rosemary Valenti Guarnera’s Me and the General is a must-read memoir and a great look into the heart of both the American Mafia and of a friendship that bloomed in the face of so much violence, betrayal, and history. The conflict that arose between Ralph, Lucky, and Thomas Dewey was so compelling, and did an amazing job of bringing more depth and dimension to a historical footnote that has resonated within the organized crime history buff community. The emotional weight of Ralph’s life, from the losses he suffered to the years spent in prison and the connection he shared with Lucky, made this a remarkable and thoughtful narrative that readers won’t be able to put down.

Jack Chambers

Hollywood Book Reviews

This detailed history of notorious mobsters is a fantastic exploration of the moral gray areas related to organized crime.

Rosemary Valenti Guarnera’s non-fiction debut, Me and the General, is the humanizing account of the friendship between the twentieth century’s most notorious gangster, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and his intimate friend, Ralph Ligouri. The book is a sensitive, detailed, and intimate look into the lives of men the public only thought they knew.

Guarnera’s work benefits from her long friendship with Ligouri, who after a series of sensationalized trials, was exiled to Italy for crimes he swore he never committed. Aching for home until his death in 1981, Ligouri made his friend promise to set the record straight. Her lengthy work seeks to do just that. First and of paramount importance, Guarnera deconstructs and recreates the trials. With Ligouri’s fastidious memories as a starting point-and with careful research used to support their details–she reveals that all was not as the public suspected.

Ambitious prosecutor, Thomas Dewey, is cast as the villain of the book, fabricating details to frame Luciano’s group with impressive speed and imagination. The reader is made to sympathize with Ligouri, a principled young man whose Achilles heel is loyalty. Between accounts of Ligouri’s troubles with Dewey come the mechanisms of Guarnera’s supporting technique humanizing the demonized men. She fleshes out both Ligouri and Luciano’s lives-and with civilizing effects. Her language is evocative and her care with the subjects at hand stands to impress.

Those who are fascinated with the tempestuous period of Prohibition, and the mobs that rose up to meet related demands, should find much to whet curiosity here. A fantastic exploration of the moral gray areas related to organized crime. Me and the General retells an infamous story in a wholly unpredictable, lively, and involving manner.

Michelle Ann Schlingler

Clarion Review

A long but fascinating biography of a man who hobnobbed with celebrities and famous gangsters during the Roaring

Ralph Liguori died in 1981 as little more than a footnote to the Untouchables era. Born in Rome and brought to the United States as an infant, he spent much of his Brooklyn adolescence consorting with hoods (much like Henry Hill, whose life was dramatized in the 1990 film Goodfellas). But he never joined the Mafia or committed any crimes, beyond running a numbers racket and doing errands for wise guys, such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano. In fact, it was his friendship with Luciano, aka “the General,” that was responsible for his indictment under a “joinder law,” which, as prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey used it, was basically legalized guilt by association. Liguori was found guilty of pimping, and following his release in 1947, he hoped to start his life anew. But he was abducted by government agents and placed on a boat to Italy, where he spent the rest of his life hoping to return to his beloved America. In Italy, he managed nightclubs, got married and hung out with fellow deportee Luciano, but he was also hounded relentlessly by the police, under pressure from the U.S. government. Later, he was brought up on “white slave trade” charges, recalling his frame-up back in New York. Guarnera occasionally delves into a little too much detail, as when she quotes at length from trial transcripts. She also misses a great opportunity when, after initially describing Liguori as a “Runyonesque character,” she fails to deliver a single line of Runyonesque speech, until the epilogue. However, the many facets and plot twists in this story remain vivid, thanks to Guarnera’s lucid writing. One central truth of Liguori’s story is particularly clear: «[T]he racketeers wouldn’t exist” if honest people weren’t “corruptible.”

The realistic, touching story of a man who made some poor choices.

Kirkus Review

This extensive biography recounts the life and times of Ralph Liguori, life-long friend of the notorious gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Beginning with his 1936 trial for alleged involvement in New York prostitution, the book flashes back to Liquori’s childhood. Known as “Baby Face Ralph” for his good looks, Liguori was the son of successful Italian immigrants and grew up in a large, loving family, with a father he adored. When his father suddenly died, however, the lure of making extra money through illegal means became more difficult to resist, and he moved into managing the numbers racket.

By then, he had met and befriended Luciano, a rising star in the underworld who would become the head of organized crime and the “General” of the title. Although Liguori and Luciano never went into business together, they remained friends throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, Liguori’s association with Luciano led him into the trial that would change his life. New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey, eager to advance his career, implicated Liguori, Luciano, and several others in running organized prostitution rings. While Liguori claimed the evidence against him was fabricated, he was convicted, and the book follows his life after this tremendous defeat.

Liquori’s story has many dramatic events, and at times the book reads like a novel, with crisp dialoque and fast-moving action. At other times, however, the details can overwhelm. For instance, in the trial scenes, the author recounts the testimony of each witness, as well as the defense’s cross-examinations, although only a few of these moments are important or dramatic. Similarly, Liguori’s life after prison sometimes feels like a day-to-day account, rather than emphasizing the highlights.

Overall, however, the author paints a sympathetic portrait of a caring man, charming and forever loyal to those he cared about. Readers of organized crime histories will particularly enjoy this book, and it may also appeal to others interested in a life story filled with twists and turns.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

BlueInk Review