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

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  3,216 ratings  ·  343 reviews
Coming in Summer 2009, the major motion picture from Universal Studios

"ludicrously entertaining" (Time), Public Enemies is the story of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI, and an assortment of criminals who became national icons: John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Fa...more
Kindle Edition, Mti Rep edition, 624 pages
Published April 29th 2009 by Penguin (first published January 1st 2004)
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The Kansas City Massacre occurred over 75 years ago, but you can still go to the renovated Union Station and see chips in the front of the building that were supposedly made by some of the bullets flying around that day. If you buy into the premise of Public Enemies, this is where the modern FBI was born. I like to imagine that years later, J. Edgar Hoover slipped into town late one night, put on one his best evening gowns and burnt some old illegal wire tap tapes on this spot as an offering to...more
K.D. Absolutely
Most Filipinos still look up to America as their savior. This was rooted on the fact that the US was the one that liberated the Philippines from the Japanese during World War II. The US granted the Philippines its post-war independence on July 4, 1946 in the Treaty of Manila. However, the military bases treaty was rejected by the Philippine Senate in September 1991 and so the dreams of many young men to have a chance to join the US navy just ceased. My brother was one of those who were fortunate...more
For as strange as this sounds, I am fascinated by the culture of the Great Depression. I would love to have lived then just to see what going to the movies, listening to the radio was like. Of course the "War on Crime" would have been a big part of it. I just imagine what it would've been like to have lived in Chicago then. Since I am born and raised in Chicago the story of the Dillinger manhunt has always had a sort of special fascination for me. I've actually been to the Biograph theater and s...more
An in-depth look at a two-year period when Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker's Gang, and Machine Gun Kelly were all active. This book tells the parallel stories of this group of criminals and the FBI.

At this time, the fledgling FBI was essentially a group of lawyers, modeled after Scotland Yard, and had to work hard to catch up to the guns and cars these bank robbers were using. Predictably, J. Edgar Hoover comes off as a publicity-hungry fool who us...more

Public Enemies

The Film Opens This Weekend, But Have You Read the Book?

By John Hood

It’s unlikely that even the most holed-up prison escapee hasn’t heard that Michael Mann’s rip-roaring Public Enemies opened all over the country this week. I mean, this flick has more hype behind it than any ten Britney Spears records combined. It’s undoubtedly a whole lot better for you too. And if you can’t cotton to the idea of Johnny Depp playing John Dillinger...more
G.d. Brennan
It's a tired cliché to say the book's better than the movie, but here it's far truer than usual.

Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" was one of our best director's worst movies. On paper, it looked like a great combination; he likes cops and criminals, and his criminals tend to be too cool for neckties, as was Dillinger. But the movie unexpectedly fell victim to his strange obsession with shooting things on digital video. Perhaps his intent was to give it a gritty you-are-there feel, but while that w...more
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...more
This is one of the most entertaining history books I have ever read. Burrough does a terrific job blending the narratives for five or six criminal organizations that bounced around the United States during the Depression. He expertly summarizes tens of thousands of pages of FBI files and makes the professionalization of the FBI the common thread that drives the separate stories. It is entertaining to see the way Burrough's tone alternates between exasperated disdain for Hoover and his political...more
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 h...more
Bryan Burrough’s book about the depression era outlaws of the US was far more interesting to me than the film it spawned (although it’s amusing that the book criticises previous films which built fantasy on the fact, and the film went and did exactly that). The narrative follows all the name crooks of the 1933/34 wave: Dillinger, Baby-Face Nelson, Pretty-Boy Floyd, Machine-Gun Kelly, The Barker-Karpis Gang and Bonnie & Clyde. It works hard to create the world they operated in and the circums...more
I used to view the 1930’s yeggs (bank robbers) through rose tinted glasses – romanticising the Robin Hood perception of these infamous criminals. Under false pretence, this group of violent, uncompassionate individuals became core to pulp culture and held in an esteem to which they shouldn’t have been regarded. Truth be told, the Dillinger, Barker, Barrow, and Baby Face Nelson gangs were thieving murderous connivers whose sole purpose of existence was to terrorise law enforcement and civilians a...more
I recommend this book.
It is an enjoyable read for any adult or young adult. In particular it is of interest to readers of suspense, true crime, American History, the Great Depression/Dust Bowl, and the forming of the FBI. The writing is very good. The reader feels immersed in the worlds of John Nash, Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barker Gang.
The research is airtight. The author retells significant events (the Kansas City Massacre, the Hunt for John Dillinger,etc.)...more
Now that the movie is coming out, I expect a few people may actually read this and I can discuss with someone. It's a well-researched, if sometimes slightly dry account of the great gangster crime wave that happened in America in the early 1930's which ultimately led to a great deal of violence, bloodshed, and the birth of the FBI. The movie will focus on John Dillinger, but the book is a chronological account that follows the exploits of Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Fac...more
Rae Kasey
A film adaptation of this book is coming out this summer, so I thought I'd try to get through it before the movie hit theaters. I thought it might take me a while, since I typically don't find myself enraptured by nonficiton.


I tore through this book in three days, completely captivated by the stories of America's first major-league criminals. John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barkers are all covered, and I learned quite a bit about not only thei...more
No digo que sea un mal libro, pero me dejó bastante frío. Me produjo un efecto parecido a Gomorrah, el libro de Roberto Saviano, se me hizo repetitivo. A la decima descripción de un asalto a un banco, seguida por la catorceava persecución, y rematada por el vigésimo error de los miembros del FBI me empecé a desesperar y todavía no había llegado ni al ecuador del libro. Creo que parte del problema es que hay demasiados personajes. Bonny y Clyde, Pretty Boy Floid, Machine Gun Kelly, la familia Bar...more
Dawn Trlak-Donahue
I am shocked at the overall high rating this book has on goodreads. I was annoyed from the Note prior to the book all the way to page 50 when I finally abandoned it. Had I been writing a term paper on the subjects of the book, I might feel differently. However, as a recreational read, I felt that this was way too heavy on details.

The author brags in his Note at the beginning of the book how no one prior to this had combined the cast of characters that he assembled in his telling of the story. O...more
Fiona Squires
This book was a major disappointment. The best thing about it is that it has clearly been well researched. The problem is that the author seems more interested in proving the extent of his research than telling a good story. A lot of the footnotes give biographical detail of people who are only mentioned once in the story. This lack of focus really harms what should be a pacy and exhilirating read.

Ultimately, the author seems to want to cover the war on crime in a scholarly fashion. If he had ch...more
Liz Nutting
This book was as exciting and gripping as a good gangster film! In fact, in many ways it was more exciting than the new film based on it. The film focuses only on John Dillinger; the book traces a number of other gangsters operating at the same time--Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and the Barker gang. Burroughs weaves all their individual stories together into a coherent, and gripping, narrative. And he does so in a way that never overwhelms or confuses t...more
Kate Buford
LIke my friend Laura Kelly, here on Goodreads, I picked this up on the local YMCA bookshelf. As I am researching the background of the 1930s for a possible book about gangsters, I gobbled this up. It's too long, with too much information we -- or at least I -- don't really need. But the section about John Dillinger was especially fascinating. As was the careful recounting of how new and bumbling the FBI was as this wave of mid-Western bank robberies captured the attention of the country in the m...more
This book was a really good history of the War on Crime in the early '30s. It's an exciting read: there's a bank robbery or shootout on every page. Pretty much every major bank robber is covered in here, and it's interesting how they interfaced with the Chicago mob. Also, the book shows the evolution of the FBI, including a number of mistakes and tragedies, into an effective crimefighting unit in a fairly short period of time. A movie was made from this book, which was decent, but I think it wou...more
Tim Weakley
A good chronilogical clearly written history of the early days of the FBI, and the bank robbers that caused them to come about. Two thirds of the book was an enjoyable read, but I found it dragged a bit towards the end. I loved the insights it gave into the people described, on both sides of the law. The FBI comes off as a fairly bumbling group, and the "bad guys" seem to have been extraordinarily lucky in evading pursuit.
I tried to get this read before I saw Public Enemies, but being invited to a sneak preview ruined those plans. It's a very in-depth look into the crime wave of the depression and how it created the FBI. I'm glad I read what I did before I saw the movie, but I almost feel like the author's trying to cram a little too much into this book.
Between 1933-1934 the United States experienced an unprecedented crime wave featuring gangsters such as John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly and Baby Face Nelson. All became big-time "celebrities" during this brief period in time. They had the upper hand on law enforcement with better weapons and faster cars. Local police did not have jurisdiction to cross city lines so it was easy for the bank robbers and kidnappers to elude capture. In response to this proliferation of crime E...more
This book had me hooked, from start to finish. I found it fascinating to read about Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, and the Karpis gang in chronological order. The fledgling FBI really had its hands full in the 1930's...
While this was a tedious read due to the great amount of detail provided it is one of the more fascinating non-fiction books I have ever read. Detailing the successes and more often blunders of the early FBI as well as the criminals they tried to apprehend during the crime wave of 1933-34. Fascinating look into the careers and final moments of Melvin Purvis, Sam Cowley, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, The Karpis and Barker gang, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd.

Interesting side note: Sa...more
I'll be honest, maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this but I just couldn't finish it. I haven't "given up" on a book in a long time, but I was deploring this book and it was turning into a chore to read.

It wasn't the subject matter that I had an issue with (I'm obsessed with the time period, and especially the Mafia and underworld.) There was just too many story lines going on at once; there were a few major ones like Dillinger and Bonnie/Clyde, but then there were minor on...more
Frank Hickey

Burrough takes the old stories of Dillinger and Karpis and gives the

reader new facts here.

That era tends to fascinate many readers.

Burrough has done an excellent job of researching for this book.

He was not content to accept hand-outs from the police and the

FBI. Many of the gangsters themselves were dead long ago.

But he finds the old witnesses.

He digs up the survivors from that era, 80 years ago.

The result is this slam-bang non-stop book that you can't

put down.

---- Frank Hickey, writer...more
When Hoover came to the BI (no F yet) in the '20s, it was unknown, incredibly corrupt, and generally incompetent. By the time the public started getting worried about what seemed an alarming crime wave in the early '30s, it was still generally unknown, a lot less corrupt, and still pretty bloody incompetent. Hoover managed to generate a whole lot of publicity in the next couple of years, chasing criminals like Dillinger and the Barkers, but only by riding on the coattails of more competent agenc...more
"Whoring, boozing, and lounging around the lake while bass fishing were pleasant enough endeavors, but none of these were reasons why Al Karpis decided on a life of crime."

As is the case with most books that become movies, the book "Public Enemies" goes into far more detail and provides more context on the turbulent years of 1933-34, a period that spawned the FBI and launched J Edgar Hoover's War on the Crime.

The film starring Johnny Depp focuses primarily on John Dillinger whereas the book chro...more
Kerry White
i enjoyed this book. It took me about 2 weeks to read it because I've been on vacation, had guests, super busy at work, etc. which was a shame because its the type of book you could polish off in a few sittings. The author writes very well and clearly was fascinated by the subject -- it was a pleasure to read, which makes me think it was a pleasure to write.

The premise of the book is really to examine the public enemy era of 1933-34 -- many of the famous criminals were active at the same time (...more
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Bryan Burrough joined Vanity Fair in August 1992 and has been a special correspondent for the magazine since January 1995. He has reported on a wide range of topics, including the events that led to the war in Iraq, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and the Anthony Pellicano case. His profile subjects have included Sumner Redstone, Larry Ellison, Mike Ovitz, and Ivan Boesky.

Prior to joining...more
More about Bryan Burrough...
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra The Miranda Obsession

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“To the generations of Americans raised since World War 2, the identities of criminals such as Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, "Ma" Barker, John Dillenger, and Clyde Barrow are no more real than are Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. After decades spent in the washing machine of popular culture, their stories have been bled of all reality, to an extent that few Americans today know who these people actually were, much less that they all rose to national prominence at the same time. They were real.” 5 likes
“History is written by the victors, they say, and there was no one alive who would come forward to dispute Hoover’s fabricated story. Never mind that there was no indication whatsoever in Bureau files that Ma Barker had ever fired a gun, robbed a bank, or done anything more criminal than live off her sons’ ill-gotten gains.” 0 likes
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