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The inter office bickering and outside perception of the FBI and its intended purpose was an eye opener and a highly interesting read. Overall, this is a sophisticated, well documented and thoroughly researched piece of fact finding which at times reads as smoothly as genre fiction.

Aug 21, F. It works hard to create the world they operated in and the circumstances which created them, so that they become fully-fledged and the reader gets a real sense of character. The cast is so large that the personae dramatis are listed in the front — a la Tolstoy. But they are given full attention, even if at points you wish you could hurry on back to find out what Dillinger is up to. They were after all a young department prone to frequent, and often baffling, mistakes.

This is grade A history — populist to be sure, but immensely readable and brilliantly put together. Was able to watch part of the filming as they took over our town for a month.

Jan 19, Richard rated it it was amazing. Utterly fascinating! May 12, Ice rated it really liked it Shelves: history. 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 s 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 h 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 s 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. Burrough's recent New York Times op-ed piece drawing parallels between the bureau's "reinvention" in the s and today's reform efforts to combat the war on terror will help attract readers looking for lessons from history.

This fascinating book tells, in detail, the events of the War on Crime waged in the years and ' A rich and colorful cast of characters parades through the pages. On the side of law and order, there was J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI along with local police and other officials. The battle unfolded amid an amazing epidemic of bank robberies, part of what some people saw as a great crime wave. More than anything else, it was probably the Kansas City Massacre -- a bloody incident in June , which left a pile of dead detectives and law enforcement officers -- that touched off the war.

This massacre shocked the country -- and the FBI -- into action. Crime had gone interstate, which was a new problem for the forces of law and order. The automobile gave mobility and speed to gangs of bank robbers; the machine gun gave them firepower. During the Great Depression, poverty and social disorganization were eating away at the country's social fabric. Corruption corroded the heart of local law enforcement.

The FBI, a relatively new organization, was weak, untrained and uncertain. Its men were, in many ways, staggeringly incompetent. But the FBI, over the course of two tumultuous years, gradually learned how to become a sleeker, more efficient instrument. Despite its bumbling and a host of false starts, by the end of the period the FBI had won the war and the "public enemies" had lost. Bonnie and Clyde died in a hail of bullets. Dillinger was cut down outside the Biograph theater in Chicago. Kelly and Nelson were also dead. So were the Barkers.

Alvin Karpis was on his way to Alcatraz. But the good guys endured a comedy of errors before all that happened.


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Burrough's account is peppered with tales of missed opportunities, bad detective work, poor record-keeping and all-around sloppiness. Desperate to catch John Dillinger, in March the FBI "stormed the Chicago apartment of a woman named Anne Baker," who was supposed to have harbored Dillinger following his escape from an Indiana jail earlier that month.

The raid was a "debacle. That raid was a fiasco. All of the criminals escaped, and the FBI ended up shooting a completely innocent man. The public enemies were hardly geniuses, either.

They, too, had their share of ludicrous errors. For example, the Karpis-Barker gang seized a hand truck, "stacked with bulging sacks" and heavily guarded, outside the Federal Reserve Building in Chicago. The gang got away -- only to discover they had stolen not money but bags of mail. In contrast, knocking off a bank appeared to be child's play.

The "public enemies" raced about the country, stealing wads of cash from banks, renting apartments, buying cars, picking up women and having a good time between jobs. They were protected by a network of supporters and hangers-on and sometimes corrupt officials. Their insatiable greed -- and their inability to stop robbing and killing -- led to their destruction, It is a wild and amazing story, and Burrough tells it with great gusto.

Truth is often not only stranger than fiction but also a lot more interesting. Burrough's research is careful and extraordinarily thorough. He debunks many of the tall tales that have accrued around these almost mythical figures. The famous woman in a red dress who betrayed John Dillinger was actually wearing an orange skirt.

Machine Gun Kelly was "inept" and "never a menacing figure. That was the image. In reality, Ma Barker was a rather stupid old woman who liked to work jigsaw puzzles and had never been mastermind of anything, including crime. When she ended up with a bullet through her head, the FBI had some explaining to do. Hoover then concocted the tale of Ma Barker the master criminal, the "brains" of the gang, an evil genius who died with a machine gun in her hands, "spidery, crafty Ma Barker," whose "withered fingers" controlled the fate of her family of "desperadoes.

In a narrow sense, the War on Crime was a great success. Hoover got what he wanted; the public enemies were put out of business.


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And in the process he created the modern FBI. He also advocated a bigger role for the federal government in the battle against criminal elements and established a strong federal agency to carry on that war. Still, Hoover's legacy was a dubious one. His agency improved its skill while gaining a great deal of power that it often abused.

Public Enemies : America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the Fbi, 1933-34

Those abuses took various forms, such as "vigorous physical interviews" that we might call gross brutality. As the power of the FBI and its director became "absolute," the agency, according to Burrough, was itself "corrupted absolutely. As for the public enemies, they were really only bit-players in the drama of high crime. As Burrough points out, law enforcement launched no "broader drives on the Chicago Syndicate or Italian Mafias, no war on counterfeiting or other crimes. Dillinger, the Barkers and the others were, in fact, disorganized crime. They robbed and they killed, but they did not, in the main, threaten the fabric of society, the texture of local and state government or the integrity of law enforcement.

Public Enemies is a significant book, and a very readable one. It is easy to toss around terms like "definitive," but this book deserves it. It is hard to imagine a more careful, complete and entrancing book on this subject, and on this era. Readers will not be disappointed. The era of the American Desperado - like the wild west - is one of the more romanticized periods in American history. Most people know who John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and the rest are but few know the stories of these men or the terror they wrought throughout the mid-west.

This book will fill in those gaps. Though they all came to fame during the hard times of the great depression that wasn't the main driving force to their life of crime. These men were just not good people. They were psych The era of the American Desperado - like the wild west - is one of the more romanticized periods in American history. They were psychotic, adventurous never do wells who happened their calling robbing banks and kidnapping people for ransom.

The advent of the automobile only added their criminal lifestyle, it also caught the attention of the fledgling FBI and in a span of two years, they would change American crime forever. Although this book dispels myths surrounding the Desperados it does the same for the FBI agents who task it was to catch them. Hoover, Melvin Purvis and the methods used by them are all shown to be less than I believed. Hoover's original vision that college-educated lawyers would be better at police work than hard-boiled street detectives was quickly dispelled by the same hard-boiled lawmen his bureau was trying to exclude.

These formative years of the FBI were a series of blunders and missed opportunities that allowed the criminals time to pursue their activities far longer than they should have been able to. That didn't hurt the FBI of course and with the aid of Hollywood mythology and a lame press, they were able to overcome these hindrances. This book captures a unique period in US history which is something that Bryan Burrough does so well. It is a period that everyone knows of but few know anything about and his ability to bring both the players and the play they are in to vivid life really shines through in this book.

Exhaustively researched and wonderfully written this book reads like fiction and enlightens like non-fiction and it will expose almost every myth you think you know you know about this crime wave, the FBI and all the characters who took part. Jun 20, Jeff Stevens rated it it was amazing. Very interesting history of the early FBI and crime wave of the early 's. This one had been sitting on my shelf for years before I found the time to read it - it is long, but worth the effort. That period of time had a few high profile criminals - John Dillinger, Babyface Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker gang, and there were lots of bank robberies and kidnappings by these and less well-known criminals.

Why did this happen? One reason was new technology - the automobile and machine gun ma Very interesting history of the early FBI and crime wave of the early 's. One reason was new technology - the automobile and machine gun made it possible to do these sorts of crimes and get away with it. Also the lack of surveillance technology and the lack of any centralized police agency, which is why this period initiated the FBI.

During their first few years, the FBI was not very good, and this book documents some monumental screwups. By about , however, they had their act together and it did make a difference in reducing crime. Sep 04, Tiffany rated it liked it Shelves: audiobook. It took a little while to get into this. The audio narrator has a rather flat voice and at first, it just seems like a litany of names. But once you get familiar with all the people he's talking about, his flat voice works for the content - makes it very "film noir. Gets a little bogged down by details at certai It took a little while to get into this.

Gets a little bogged down by details at certain points, but anyone who is interested in the subject may appreciate that exhaustive treatment. Enjoyed this years ago! Haven't been updating although I keep thinking I will. Mostly I lurk and watch what all my friends here are reading. Committed to making a better go of this resource so that others can track the good and avoid the bad stuff.

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Dec 31, Katherine Addison rated it liked it Shelves: 20th-century , true-crime , dystopian-nonfiction. And all the astounding clusterfucks that took place along the way. The book is both lively and informative, and Burrough does his best to give both sides of the story, discussing the FBI as much as the criminals. He does, however, have biases. He always calls them "Bonnie and Clyde," whereas the other criminals get the respect of being called by their surnames except as necessary to distinguish between Fred and Dock Barker.

Burrough does not, for instance, call John Dillinger "John" or "Johnnie" in his exposition. And he condemns Barrow and Parker with a viciousness that no one else in the book gets: Art [the movie] has now done for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow something they could never achieve in life: it has taken a shark-eyed multiple murderer and his deluded girlfriend and transformed them into sympathetic characters, imbuing them with a cuddly likeability they did not possess, and a cultural significance they do not deserve.

But I don't see how they're any worse than Dillinger, Karpis, Floyd, or Nelson especially Nelson, whom Burrough frankly describes as a psychopath. All of them left a trail of bodies behind them, even Dillinger, whom Burrough comes perilously close to valorizing. Burrough is contemptuous of Barrow because he never made it as a bank robber, but the thing this book makes clear is that all of these notorious criminal masterminds botched jobs, escaped through pure luck time and again, and in the end died cruelly pathetic deaths.

Overall, this book does an excellent job of showing the astonishing confluence of bank robbers and G-men, each playing into the other's hands, in and You just have to be aware that Burrough is not impartial, because he won't tell you so himself.

Customer Reviews

Feb 21, Jeff rated it liked it. Oct 17, Christopher rated it really liked it Shelves: history , united-states. This is a gripping and fascinating look at the lives of the last romantic desperadoes of American history and cultural mythology. Bryan Burrough does a fine job of bringing much of the era of outlaws and G-Men alive with keen research and a good narrative focus. In fact, Burrough strikes a perfect balance between scrupulous scholarship and fast-paced storytelling, leaving both history buffs and true crime readers something to enjoy.

The best part about this book to me though is that Burrough is This is a gripping and fascinating look at the lives of the last romantic desperadoes of American history and cultural mythology. The best part about this book to me though is that Burrough is able to write about Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson, and others as well as their FBI pursuers without glorifying them. In this book, the criminals are seen for exactly what they are: criminals, and deadly ones too.

The worst part about this book is that Burrough never fully explains the appeal the outlaws had in mainstream society. Dillinger and others were famous "Robin Hood" figures in the public imagination, but Burrough only gives the lame explanation of it being the Depression and all that. No doubt that was the biggest contributing factor, but it's not a good enough explanation in my mind.

Also, Burrough only mentions some of the extra-legal tactics of the FBI that would come to mark the Bureau under Hoover's reign. In fact, he only describes in detail some of these tactics, like kidnapping a suspect's wife and beating another suspect. But he never goes into greater depth about other events like this. Surely, for a police force that would become notorious for these actions, their origins should have been given a little more air time. Saw the movie and just had to read the book to get a better idea of the real history. It was fascinating!

The author does not sympathize or glamorize the gangsters but nor does he glorify the FBI, he writes with an objective voice. The various public enemies had different personalities and motives for doing what they did. Bonnie and Clyde were a couple of bored kids with no real brains who thought nothing of shooting up innocent people and hauling in insignificant amounts of money for the thrill Saw the movie and just had to read the book to get a better idea of the real history.

Here, too, is documented the early fumbling of the FBI, hindered by J. His administerial function unable to relate to the agent in the field who were untrained and unprepared, most did not have guns or have access to fast cars. My completion of this book has been an exceptionally long-time coming. I bought this book back in before the movie was released I never saw it , and struggled to get into it.

I would stop and start and feel so lost amidst the enormous cast of characters and the startling number of details provided about them. However, when I finally dedicated the time to get into the book, I was blown away. When you can give it your focus and get into the flow of the narrative, it becomes far easier to sepa My completion of this book has been an exceptionally long-time coming.

When you can give it your focus and get into the flow of the narrative, it becomes far easier to separate out the different players and appreciate the wealth of detail. Burrough has clearly accomplished a staggering feat of research, and his meticulous recounting of the rise of the FBI and the Public Enemies' lives is commendable. Burrough clearly takes pains to provide evidence on both sides of any disagreed-upon plot point in the FBI's and Enemies' stories, and I feel that the triumph of this book is his ability to deglamorize these criminals that have in many ways become national idols.

With this book, Burrough uses incredible evidence to break down the myths and legends of our nation's most famous Depression-era criminals and the infant FBI that pursued them. He portrays these people as real, flawed, living in fear and dying violently. He names the many victims who went forgotten as their killers became celebrities, and gives due credit to those who worked towards their capture behind the scenes. I was sad to hear that the movie didn't live up to this amazing account of the times perhaps one day, we'll get a miniseries?

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Firmly bound and very carefully read. No inscription or ownership markings. No tears loss. Penguin Books. No International ShippingGood condition. Used books doesn't include any access code, CD or other supplements. For returns always contact us. Audio Book CD. In , police jurisdictions ended at state lines, the FBI was in its infancy, and fast cars and machine guns were easily available.

It was a great time to be a bank robber. On hand were a motley crew of criminal masterminds, sociopaths, romantics, and cretins.

Public Enemies ( film) - Wikipedia

Bryan Burrough has unearthed an extraordinary amount of new material on all the major figures involved -- revealing many fascinating interconnections in the vast underworld ecosystem that stretched from Texas up to Minnesota. But the real-life connections were insignificant next to the sense of connectedness J. Edgar Hoover worked to create in the mind of the American public-using the "Great Crime Wave" to gain the position of untouchable power he would occupy for almost half a century.

Pages: The Penguin Press. Customer service is our 1 priority. We sell great books at great prices with super fast shipping. Penguin Non-Classics , First Paperback Edition. Like New. First Edition. Burrough, Bryan. Pengin Press, First edition, first printing. Minor crimp to lower spine, else fine in fine, faintly worn dust jacket with one tiny chip in mylar cover. Condition: Minor crimp to lower spine, else fine in fine, faintly worn dust jacket with one tiny chip in mylar cover. Edition: First edition, first printing.