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Capone: The Man and the Era Paperback – August 5, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Biography of the legendary prohibition-era gangster.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In the wake of Robert J. Schoenberg's Mr. Capone (LJ 8/92), called "the most detailed biography of Capone published to date" by LJ's reviewer, comes an even more detailed account based on extensive research and interviews. Bergreen, who has written biographies of James Agee and Irving Berlin, has "abandoned conventional assumptions of...right and wrong" in his sympathetic portrayal of the one-time Public Enemy Number One. He blames the hypocrisies of Prohibition and anti-Italian bias for creating Capone's undeserved reputation, and he is especially critical of Capone nemesis Eliot Ness. Bergreen labels the tax evasion trial that sent Capone to prison a "legalistic lynching" and tends to excuse Capone's more unsavory actions as the results of "latent neurosyphilis." However controversial, this book offers much of interest, including new information about Capone and his family. Larger crime collections will want both books.
Gregor A. Preston, Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (August 5, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684824477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684824475
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John W. Cotner on September 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book deserves better than it has gotten; I am surprised by the vehemence of some of the reviewers' reactions to it. It offers a broad, interesting, historical view of turn of the century New York, then Chicago, early 20th century politics, prohibition, the hero-worship of the Roaring 20's, the mafia, the FBI, syphillis, Alcatraz -- a whole Ragtime-like panorama. It is entertaining and instructive. Those who pan it appear to have a problem with the somewhat sympathetic portrayal of a morally objectionable person or quibble over arcane facts.
Having lived in Lansing, Michigan and spent time in the northwoods of Wisconsin, where Al Capone summered, I can say that the legend of Al Capone is still very much alive in those two locations; he rivals George Washington for having supposedly slept or shot up more places than anyone else. The author captures this aspect of Capone's life, as well as his charismatic, sympathetic Robin Hood-like persona which humanized him and endeared him to a portion of the masses.
I wa not bothered by the diversions of attention to Al Capone's brother, Two Gun Hart and his supposed nemisis, Eliot Ness, and found them interesting and germane to Capone's life story. I had not heard of the brother before but was aware that post-Capone, Ness ended up as a police official in Cleveland. Nor was I bothered by what some call an overly-sympathetic portrayal of Capone; he has aspects that frankly are sympathetic.
What strikes me as most interesting about the author's portrayal of Al Capone is that he shows how Capone -- certainly not stupid, and trained as a bookkeeper -- was the first man to apply systematic business and financial practices to the running of the mob, and increased its bottom line.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Pitcavage on November 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Capone: the Man and the Era, by Lawrence Bergreen, is a lengthy and extensively researched biography of Chicago gangster Al Capone, full of interesting details. Alas, all of this work has essentially been negated by the author's own credulousness and his repeated construction of edifices of the sheerest flights of fancy based on the flimsiest--or complete non-existence--of evidence. As a result, the reader is left questioning the accuracy of almost everything in the book--especially as it is not well sourced.

Let me give you some of the most egregious examples.

First, based solely on a single piece of circumstantial evidence, Bergreen decides that Al Capone was a long-term cocaine addict. The evidence? A medical examination upon his entrance into prison revealed a perforated septum, which sometimes occurs with cocaine abusers. Based solely and completely on this one fact, Bergreen not only concludes that Capone must have been a heavy user of cocaine, but he repeatedly refers throughout the book to Capone's cocaine use, even though he does not have a single eyewitness account (out of the tens of thousands of people who wrote or talked about Capone) of Capone ever, even once, taking cocaine. Now, when you realize that a number of conditions can create a perforated septum, including even "aggressive nose picking," the idea that it had to have been cocaine is simply ridiculous. By the way, apparently syphilis--which Capone infamously had--can also sometimes cause a perforated septum.

It would have been entirely justified for Bergreen to have speculated on the possibility that perhaps Capone had been a cocaine user, and left it at that. Instead, based on very poor evidence, he repeatedly states it as absolute fact.
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25 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Rick "Mad Dog" Mattix on September 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for a good in-depth study of Al Capone or the Prohibtion beer wars in Chicago, this is not the book for you. If you're looking for a biography that gets wildly sidetracked from its subject and, as an added bonus, offers questionable revisions to the Capone story, this is just the book for you. The story of Capone's "lost" brother "Two-Gun" Hart is nothing really new and Bergreen's new emphasis on him presents the family's fictional account rather than the real story. James Capone, a.k.a. "Two-Gun" Hart, was not the honest lawman Bergreen portrays him as, nor was he was a war hero. Hart lost his respected place in the community of Homer, Nebraska when his tales of wartime heroism were exposed as a sham and he could provide no proof of military service. His tough image as a "two-gun" cop resulted mostly from drunken brawls with Indians who proved tougher than he was. Bergreen devotes a third of the book to this boring fraud who makes brother Al seem, in comparison, a paragon of honesty to those who know the true facts. Another third is devoted to the colorless "Untouchable" Prohibition agent Eliot Ness, who was far less interesting than the character in the fictional TV series and movie. His story would be best told elsewhere. One section of the book deals, inaccurately, with the Depression desperadoes: Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, etc.,--and adds nothing to the Capone story. Bergreen's report on the Thompson submachine gun, the Capone gang's trademark weapon, with its description of heavy, bruising recoil and near-impossibility to control, is a joke to anyone who's ever handled a Model 21 tommy gun. The gang wars, which should occupy center stage in a definite bio of America's most notorious mobster, are treated rather sketchily. Some other family info is way off the mark. And, on the flimsiest of evidence, Bergreen makes Capone both a pawn of the Chicago Heights mob and a cocaine addict. This is a poor excuse for a Capone biography...
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