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Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One Hardcover – June 4, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0195304831 ISBN-10: 0195304837 Edition: Third Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Third Edition edition (June 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195304837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195304831
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds--spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring--provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a story of sex and violence that proved irresistible.

In Dillinger's Wild Ride, Elliott J. Gorn provides a riveting account of the year between 1933 and 1934, when the Dillinger gang pulled over a dozen bank jobs, and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen men--police, FBI agents, gangsters, and civilians--lost their lives in the rampage, and American newspapers breathlessly followed every shooting and jail-break. As Dillinger's wild year unfolded, the tale grew larger and larger in newspapers and newsreels. Even today, Dillinger is the subject of pulp literature, poetry, fiction, and films, including a movie starring Johnny Depp.

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From Publishers Weekly

Gorn (Mother Jones) presents a solid, unromanticized account of the last year in the short life of famed bank robber John Dillinger. Gorn rejects psychologizing about why Dillinger, the unexceptional if restless grocerÖs son, born in Indianapolis in 1903, turned to a life of crime, arrested first in 1924 for assaulting an elderly store clerk in a botched robbery. After spending nine years—almost a third of his short life—in jail, Dillinger found a Depression-era America far different from the one heÖd left. Less than two months into his parole, Dillinger and the first in a revolving parade of Dillinger gang members robbed the Commercial Bank in Daleville, Ind., making off with $3,500. Between July 1933 and his death just one year later, Dillinger robbed more than 10 banks, killed at least five people (all lawmen) and stole over $300,000, all the while evading capture by local law enforcement and later the FBI. Gorn, who teaches at Brown University, relies on newspaper accounts and government documents (and, thankfully, no reconstructed dialogue) to plot the movements of a criminal who, 75 years after his death, still reverberates in the American consciousness. 30 b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

Another was that he was a good boy until he was railroaded into prison.
R. Hardy
Purvis shot himself, by-the-way, but you won't learn of his fate herein - nor that of Dillinger's dear old dad or best gal out of several, Billie Frechette.
Richard Masloski
Readers will find Gorn's biography of John Dillinger to be comprehensive, lively, and the best-written book on Dillinger to date.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Downey on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
My first thought when flipping through my copy of Dillinger's Wild Ride was that it was going to be a hastily thrown together book aimed at cashing in on the release of Public Enemies. I figured my initial thought was confirmed when I read the acknowledgements. In them Mr. Gorn states that he approached his friendly librarian and said, "I'm getting interested in crime in the '30's; what have you got?" The Librarian suggested Dillinger and then wham bam he decided he'd write a book about the desperado.

I then flipped to the photo section and again I thought my initial reaction was justified. If you look at the wanted poster above. It's a fake, probably a souvenir from years past. The picture of Dillinger was cropped from a photo taken after his Tucson arrest and the poster states that he may be in the company of Harry Pierpont and Charles Markley[sic]. It also says that if you see Dillinger you should notify your local police or the FBI. As all Dillinger/Public Enemy era enthusiast know Pierpont and Makley were arrested with him in Tucson therefore Dillinger would no longer be in their company and the FBI wasn't known as the FBI until after Dillinger's death. A novice mistake, which again made me think, if you let that slip by should you really be writing a book on Dillinger?

So, not expecting much I started reading the book. Turns out I enjoyed it. It is a concise history of the Dillinger story and Mr. Gorn hits all important events and then describes the national reaction by quoting from newspapers from around the country, contrastng editorials- was Dillinger a Huck Finn who fell in with a bad crowd or a cold blooded killer? Depended on which paper you read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Readers familiar with Elliott Gorn's previous books (The Manly Art, A Brief History of American Sports, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America) know the author of Dillinger's Wild Ride as a master historian and storyteller. Gorn, Professor of American Civilization and History at Brown University, tells us in his slyly self-effacing "Acknowledgments" that he has spent his career "working history's city desk," "writing about the likes of boxers and brawlers, labor organizers, and bank robbers." His unique mode of "history from below" has consistently deepened and complicated our understanding of the American past and American culture, and this is especially true of Dillinger's Wild Ride.

The ostensible focus of the book is the period from 1933 to 1934, when Dillinger and his shifting band of fellow outlaws darted from state to state robbing banks, breaking out of prisons, embarrassing police and FBI agents, eluding capture, and capturing America's attention. But in Gorn's rich re-telling Dillinger's life story reveals the ways in which American icons shape and are shaped by the cultural moment. Gorn is particularly attuned to the ways in which Dillinger's increasingly audacious assaults on banks both fueled and expressed public frustration during the Great Depression, and he draws without dwelling on provocative parallels between that economic crisis and our own (Americans in the 30's got Dillinger; we get Bernie Madoff; go figure).

Among its many virtues, Dillinger's Wild Ride offers an extended rumination on the ways history is rewritten (often in the making) to serve specific cultural needs. The book is framed by telling instances of this impulse.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on June 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elliott J. Gorn has written a well-researched, eloquent and fluid account of the notorious Jack Rabbit who is better known as John Dillinger. The book moves at a fast clip and is never dull: but then again how could any book ever be dull about so fascinating a character? It is hard to believe that his story is real, that such a man could ever have existed. Dillinger is impossible in today's technological society with its surveillance cameras and cell phone bings and helicopter pursuits of crime cars that make the TV news as they happen. And that is part of his undying fascination. While he is implausible in today's society, today's economically recessional society is not so far different from the breeding grounds of Dillinger's Depression youth.

The book is flawed, however. It would be nice to learn the fates of some key players in Johnnie's life: Melvis Purvis for one (the G-Man most often credited with bagging the bandit, soon to be played by Batman himself...Christian Bale opposite Johnny Depp's Dillinger). Purvis shot himself, by-the-way, but you won't learn of his fate herein - nor that of Dillinger's dear old dad or best gal out of several, Billie Frechette. The photo section also excludes some important personages and it would have been nice to see them included.

The book's subtitle is actually not even needed and reads rather clumsily: "The Year that Made America's Public Enemy Number One." While the book examines the times as relates to Dillinger's doings, one does not get a larger sense of the year(s) (1933-34) as pertains to the entire country and the rest of the world.
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