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Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero Hardcover – February 20, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the feature film and the television series, both titled The Untouchables, Eliot Ness is portrayed as the stolid, upright federal agent who relentlessly and successfully pursued Al Capone and destroyed Capone’s Chicago empire. Recent revisionist histories have convincingly illustrated that Ness’ role in bringing down Capone was tangential. But Perry, an award-winning journalist, asserts that Ness still should be honored as a highly successful lawman, especially after leaving Chicago, when he served as a public-safety director in the corrupt and crime-ridden city of Cleveland. The real Ness was a far more interesting and flawed person than the cartoonlike character of television and film. He was ambitious, charming, and innovative, but he was also reckless in both his personal and public life, and he died in debt and obscurity. Perry recounts both his rise and decline with the proper mix of objectivity and compassion for a man who deserves some degree of respect and admiration. --Jay Freeman

Review

A Best Books of 2014 Selection, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“This is rip-roaring stuff, and Mr. Perry tells it with gusto.”
—The Wall Street Journal

“Perry paints a riveting portrait of the real man behind the Untouchables icon… It’s a tragic true story more engrossing than the myth.”
Parade Magazine

“[A] new and invaluable biography… [Perry] does justice to his subject, a complicated and self-destructive human being, but one who was also admired by many. He is a tragic rather than heroic figure, and Perry nails him with style and compassion.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Perry has spun a riveting tale.” 
The Washington Post

“Perry takes plenty of detours beyond Ness's work history, exploring fascinating topics like an infamous Cleveland serial killer case, the evolution of law enforcement tactics, and the ever-present enticements wooing less-than-holy Chicago-area cops. But he doesn't need to wander afield when it comes to the dangerous missions by the "Untouchables" squad in Chicago: The action scenes are positively cinematic… Smart, authoritative, and bristling with challenges to the status quo: [Eliot Ness] has more than a little in common with its remarkable subject.”
—The Christian Science Monitor

“[A] new and invaluable biography… [Perry] does justice to his subject, a complicated and self-destructive human being, but one who was also admired by many. He is a tragic rather than heroic figure, and Perry nails him with style and compassion.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Don’t believe what you’ve seen in the movies. The true story of Eliot Ness is better than the Hollywood version, and Douglas Perry tells it brilliantly, with hard-nosed reporting and graceful prose. This book is so good even Al Capone would have enjoyed it, though perhaps grudgingly.”
—Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster
 
“Douglas Perry is telling three stories here, those of Eliot Ness, of criminal empires, and of America, each done with equal grace and skill. His superb research is matched by his understanding of Ness as a microcosm of these larger tales, and he recreates a man and a slice of American history with marvelous results. A truly remarkable book.”
—Michael Koryta, New York Times Bestselling author of The Prophet  
 
“There’s so much more to the complex life and career of Eliot Ness than the Untouchables and Al Capone, and now we finally have the whole fascinating story. Douglas Perry proves that well-researched truth always trumps one-dimensional mythology, especially when presented by a gifted storyteller. Eliot Ness is that rarity – an authentic page-turner.”
—Jeff Guinn, author of Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
 
“In this true crime page turner, Douglas Perry cuts through the myths surrounding the legendary lawman to reveal a figure far more flawed, complex—and fascinating—than the squeaky-clean do-gooder of “Untouchables” fame.  Readers will be riveted by Perry’s gripping account of Ness’s post-Chicago career, where, among other adventures, he found himself on the trail of one of America’s most savage serial murderers, the maniac known as the Cleveland Torso Killer.”
—Harold Schechter, author of The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder that Shook the Nation
 
“Finally, you can forget the over-dramatized accounts and Hollywood-hyped film portrayals of the past, and read Douglas Perry’s masterfully researched and honest tale of the crime-fighting life and personal struggles of the famed Eliot Ness. This is story-telling at its finest....”
—Carlton Stowers, two-time Edgar winner
 
“Over time—thanks in great part to Hollywood, television, and even comic books—Ness’s remarkable crime-fighting career has been reduced to his famous struggle against mobster Al Capone. At last here is Ness in his first, second, and final acts. A true account of his life that makes for a better story than Hollywood could have ever concocted.”
—James McGrath Morris, author of The Rose Man of Sing Sing

    
“You may have thought you knew Eliot Ness, but Douglas Perry shows us that The Untouchables and taking down Capone were only the start of his story. Ness, though he went on to fight more gangsters and hunt a serial killer, was a far more complicated and flawed American hero than we previously realized.”
—Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking

 
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (February 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025886
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Douglas Perry is the award-winning author of "The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago" and "Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero." His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Oregonian, Tennis, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sinohey TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Eliot Ness, Al Capone’s nemesis and arguably the most famous G-Man of the Prohibition era; with his Untouchables, he cleaned out police corruption in Chicago, closed the Mob’s illegal breweries and speakeasies and sent Al “Scarface” Capone to prison. Or so the fiction went according to the ABC television series 1959-63 “The Untouchables”, starring Robert Stack as Ness and later (1987) reinforced by a big screen production by the same title, with Kevin Costner in the lead role. The heroic mythology of Eliot Ness was the product of a mostly hyperbolic fictional biography of Ness written in collaboration with sportswriter Oscar Fraley, about a year prior to his death from alcoholism.
In reality, Ness was never a G Man. He was an agent of the Bureau of Prohibition, where he was tasked to form a team of selected men to enforce prohibition in Chicago, in the late 1920s, that was known as “the Capone squad” and later dubbed as “The Untouchables”, by the local press. The squad achieved significant success in combating the Mob’s smuggling and illegal alcohol trade, smashing breweries and closing down speakeasies until the Repeal of Prohibition (accomplished with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment) on December 5, 1933.
Ness did not arrest Capone and probably never met him. Capone was jailed in 1931 on tax evasion charges. Also the unflinching dedication, incorruptibility and honesty of Ness were qualities not shared by some of his team, who were ‘touchable’ and open to bribery.

Ironically, Ness is not remembered for his outstanding work as Director of Public Safety in Cleveland, when he was hired in 1934, to clean out rampant crime and municipal government corruption.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By C L on February 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This biography is excellent. It is the story of a good man and a good cop, incorruptible, intelligent, and hard working. Mr Perry lays down the facts about Elliot Ness, who has been both glamorized and ridiculed over time. Ness did not take down Al Capone, but he did make life harder for Capone. That was more than a lot of law enforcement people were willing to risk doing in Capone's heyday. Then Ness took on the job of public safety director (police chief basically) in an extremely corrupt city. He performed his duties very well there, also. But, there were problems, too. Ness, the prohibition gangbuster, died an alcoholic. Ness, the image of the all American Sunday School boy, was a womanizer. The author tells this story rather quickly and with zest. Ness did not deserve all the glamour attached to his name, but he most certainly does not deserve to be ridiculed. This is the book to read and find out why.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Darcia Helle VINE VOICE on August 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Eliot Ness is a fascinating man, best known for his role in leading The Untouchables while chasing Al Capone. Here, Douglas Perry introduces us to the real man behind all the hype. If you've read The Untouchables or seen the movie, you might be surprised to learn how much of Ness's memoir was overblown hype. In fact, Eliot Ness never approved the final manuscript, which he had not actually written, because he died before the book was finished.

I was impressed with the breadth of content here. Aside from the Capone years, we learn about Ness's career as Safety Director in Cleveland, his obsession with corruption, his battle maintaining his reputation, and his transition into business that seemed to be his final downfall. Despite all the good Ness did, he died broke and in relative obscurity.

Perry shows us the human side of the legend, which I find far more interesting than the glamorous view designed to sell books and movies. We're also given a look at what the world was like during this tumultuous period in history, when mafia men were openly running some cities.

The writing itself lacks a bit of personality, coming off a little dry with its 'just the facts' format. But the writing is also clear and precise, and the timeline easy to follow. Definitely a book I'd recommend to anyone interested in Eliot Ness and/or this period of history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Culbertson on March 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eliot Ness has always been in the background in our family, as my father's uncle was one of the Untouchables, and is named several times in the book. But those of us that were a couple of generations removed from the events didn't really know much other than Uncle -- was an Untouchable. So when I saw his name listed in the index of the book at the bookstore, I had to buy the book (from Amazon, naturally). I not only learned more about my great uncle, but I learned a great deal about Ness, a fascinating man who's actions made huge impacts on two American cities, as well as during World War II. This book is a fascinating story, and a sad one. How does such a great man end up broke and unemployed? The irony - the alcohol was what launched him into the spotlight during prohibition ended up being a large part of his downfall.

I am also a fan of "Boardwalk Empire", and it was interesting to see names pop up in this book that are also characters on that TV series. Kind of gives them more dimension.

I don't generally read non-fiction, but as I said I had a personal interest in reading this. Despite that, I would have enjoyed this book - it flows nicely, has a lot of details but doesn't get bogged down by them. Like a good novel, I hated to see it end, and for days afterwards, I was still thinking about the people involved. Highly recommended.
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