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Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 Paperback – April 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Burrough, an award-winning financial journalist and Vanity Fair special correspondent, best known for Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, switches gears to produce the definitive account of the 1930s crime wave that brought notorious criminals like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde to America's front pages. Burrough's fascination with his subject matter stems from a family connection—his paternal grandfather manned a roadblock in Arkansas during the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde—and he successfully translates years of dogged research, which included thorough review of recently disclosed FBI files, into a graceful narrative. This true crime history appropriately balances violent shootouts and schemes for daring prison breaks with a detailed account of how the slew of robberies and headlines helped an ambitious federal bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover transform a small agency into the FBI we know today. While some of the details (e.g., that Dillinger got a traffic ticket) are trivial, this book compellingly brings back to life people and times distorted in the popular imagination by hagiographic bureau memoirs and Hollywood. Burrough's recent New York Times op-ed piece drawing parallels between the bureau's "reinvention" in the 1930s and today's reform efforts to combat the war on terror will help attract readers looking for lessons from history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The literature on Depression-era desperadoes such as John Dillinger is exhaustive but hardly exhausted, as Stanley Hamilton's Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand (2003) and Burroughs' offering indicate. Burroughs imparts his personal fascination with such charismatic criminals to his readers as he strips the mopes of folkloric myth to restore them to their rightful places as bank robbers, kidnappers, carjackers, and cop killers. Burroughs' work also benefits from recently released FBI records. His narrative seamlessly incorporates that information with extant knowledge, a boon to readers ready for a chronicle of the cases that elevated the Bureau of Investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1933 the BI was not yet the country's premier police agency; it became so via its pursuit of gangsters who murdered BI agents in an infamous Kansas City attack. Burroughs' grip on J. Edgar Hoover's subsequent investigations is solid as he slyly dramatizes what kind of people Bonnie and Clyde, "Baby Face" Nelson, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, the Karpis-Barker gang, and their confederates really were. A 10-strike for the true-crime fan. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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Never seen so much dumb luck, ineptness, and jackassery outside of a Dortmunder novel. I almost forgot that the characters in this one were all flesh and blood.
Well written and presented in a clear and direct manner.
I've heard the names of the Depression era outlaws but this book put them in perspective with each other. Also, learning about the men and women who were tireless in tracking these characters was a delight as well.
This book tells it like it really was, and it really was violent and fascinating. So much that I thought I knew was debunked by this book (and the facts contained therein come from FBI files) that it was a true eye opening experience.
If you've seen the movie, don't let that sway you from reading this book. In the movie they have combined some things (the shootout at Little Bohemia is a fine example) and placed some things in the wrong time frame. The movie was really just a snippet of what this book has to offer.
Highly recommended. Well written, interesting, and factual. When done, follow up with On the Rock 2008: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz : the Prison Story of Alvin Karpis as told to Robert Livesey. This will enhance and continue from where Public Enemies left off.