What is it about an epic? A vast story that spans across multiple time periods showing the change of not just a protagonist but of a group. Lord of the Rings, Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, these books measure their stories not in action but in time. Add in the mob and criminals, and The Godfather deserves a place at the top.
Don Vito Corleone runs a family business of selling and trading olive oil. On the side, he also may get some cash through less than legal means. When a drug business decides the Corleone family should move over, youngest son Michael gets involved. Murder and mayhem follow with betrayals the norm.
Michael is the center of the story. He's the Frodo, the Scarlett O'hara, the one changed most. Like Breaking Bad would do decades later, circumstances in Puzo's sprawling novel cause Michael to abandon ideals he wishes he had to pick up violence he was always drawn to. No matter what he says, our hero of this tale ends it with blood on his hands.
Another big theme throughout is the American Dream. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps in the land of opportunity. Nobody in this book lives by that bullshit, except those that suffer. From the first conversation where the man begs the Don for revenge after the courts have failed him, the book centers around the idea of family. Of connection to community. Of banding together not because of justice but despite it. Economics here is handled with the bullet and knife to brutal efficiency.
If you can, get the audiobook as read by Joe Mantegna. His New York gruff adds weight to this already heavy book.