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Rediscover: The Godfather

Mario Puzo's The Godfather turns 50 on March 10. This thing of his, especially the 1972 film adaptation, is the Don of American crime fiction. The Sopranos and Goodfellas, among uncountable other works, owe their existence to Puzo's depiction of Italian-American gangsters. Even words such as consigliere, caporegime, Cosa Nostra and omertà were unknown to most Americans before The Godfather. Both Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola adapted the book into a screenplay (for which they shared an Oscar). The film version of The Godfather is considered among the greatest movies of all time. Its sequels, Parts II and III, also included contributions from Puzo.

Puzo drew heavily on the real history of New York's Five Families and their associates. Vito Corleone is based on crime bosses Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino, and Johnny Fontane on Frank Sinatra. Puzo was also inspired by Honoré de Balzac's novel Le Père Goriot (1835), from which came The Godfather's epigraph: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." Today Berkley is releasing a 50th-anniversary edition of The Godfather with a new introduction by Francis Ford Coppola. It's an offer you can't refuse. --Tobias Mutter