Public enemies [America's greatest crime wave and the birth of the FBI, 1933-34]

Bryan Burrough, 1961-

Book - 2004

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Subjects
Published
New York : Penguin Press 2004.
Language
English
Item Description
Subtitle from cover.
Physical Description
592 p. : ill
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
0143035371
9780143115861
1594200211
Main Author
Bryan Burrough, 1961- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

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. ((Reviewed July 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

The title Public Enemies captures the focus of this history of the early 1930s "war on crime." Former journalist and popular writer Burrough graphically recounts the FBI's role in countering the nation's notorious gangsters of the 1930s (John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker gang, Alvin Karpis, George Kelly, and Charles Floyd). Through research in relevant FBI records, contemporary news stories, and interviews, Burrough clarifies and at times rebuts the myths about these colorful gangsters and the FBI's responses. His narrow if detailed and engrossing focus on the gangster-FBI conflict will undoubtedly command the interest of crime buffs. But this very focus, combined with his failure to research Justice Department, Roosevelt administration, and congressional records, and FBI files on prominent journalists Courtney Ryley Cooper, Henry Suydam, and Walter Trohan, reduces the value of this history for criminologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians. Burrough adds little to our understanding of the FBI's emergence as a powerful and revered agency--shaped less by the FBI's planning and violent response to independent gangsters than by the politics of internal security of the late 1930s, WW II, and Cold War eras. Summing Up: Recommended. Public libraries and general collections only. Copyright 2005 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Burrough (coauthor, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco) is clearly a gifted writer and a skilled researcher. Yet while many of the vignettes in this portrait of a crime era read like the best fiction, the book suffers from considerable back and forth and ends up a disappointing, disjointed affair. Just when the reader starts turning pages faster as the FBI begins to move in on Baby Face Nelson, Burrough switches to the hunt for John Dillinger. However colorful, the various gang members become harder and harder to distinguish, and the uninitiated will find themselves confused by the seemingly bland recitation of FBI agents complete with birth date, service dates, etc. and the criminals they pursued. With so much material, including recently released FBI files, Burrough could easily have filled twice the pages. In fact, he intends this to be serious history and rails against the Hollywood treatment afforded these murderous criminals, yet he, too, is guilty of sensational writing. Of interest mainly to true fans. Karen Sandlin Silverman, CFAR-Ctr. for Applied Research, Philadelphia Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. Agent, Andrew Wylie. 6-city author tour. (July 22) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

An analysis of Depression-era bank robbery and its most notorious figures recounts the stories of such individuals as Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson, discussing the factors that influenced the period's crime rates, the formation and early work of the FBI, and the contributions of J. Edgar Hoover. Reprint.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Analyzes Depression-era bank robbery and its most notorious figures, discussing the factors that influenced the period's crime rates, the formation and early work of the FBI, and the contributions of J. Edgar Hoover.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In Public Enemies, bestselling author Bryan Burrough strips away the thick layer of myths put out by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to tell the full story—for the first time—of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young Hoover and the assortment of criminals who became national icons: John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barkers. In an epic feat of storytelling and drawing on a remarkable amount of newly available material on all the major figures involved, Burrough reveals a web of interconnections within the vast American underworld and demonstrates how Hoover’s G-men overcame their early fumbles to secure the FBI’s rise to power.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

In Public Enemies, bestselling author Bryan Burrough strips away the thick layer of myths put out by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to tell the full story—for the first time—of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young Hoover and the assortment of criminals who became national icons: John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barkers. In an epic feat of storytelling and drawing on a remarkable amount of newly available material on all the major figures involved, Burrough reveals a web of interconnections within the vast American underworld and demonstrates how Hoover’s G-men overcame their early fumbles to secure the FBI’s rise to power.