By People Staff
February 24, 1986 12:00 PM

by Nicholas Pileggi

Henry Hill is a New York criminal who tells how at the age of 11 he started working for the Mafia family of Paul Vario. School ended early. “There was something ludicrous about sitting through lessons in 19th-century American democracy when he was living in a world of 18th-century Sicilian thievery,” the author of this nonfiction Mafia expose explains. By the time he turned 20, Henry says, he was “stealing and scheming with two hands. When I was doing the cigarettes [selling them untaxed], I was also lending money and I was taking a little book and I was running the stolen cars to Haiti. Tuddy got me a couple of grand [for] setting some fires in supermarkets and restaurants…. I made a lot of grief for people.” The money flowed in and was disposed of just as quickly. Hill married, had children and pretty soon was dealing drugs. Then came the $6 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport and Henry suddenly was a liability to the mob—he knew too much. By agreeing to become a witness against all his friends and associates, Hill and his family got a new name and a new life from the federal witness protection program. Both he and his wife provided long, first-person interviews for this story of a misspent life. Pileggi, a New York journalist who since 1956 has specialized in writing about crime and corruption, starts at the beginning and tells it all without frills. It is a chilling tale of human rot, all the more effective for its restrained tone. (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)