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

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,078 Ratings  ·  386 Reviews
The men and women at the center of this book are American legends: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barker gang, and "G-Man" J. Edgar Hoover have all become part of our national folklore. Bryan Burrough's Public Enemies strips away Depression-era myths to reveal the even more fascinating truth about America's most spectacular crime ...more
ebook, 624 pages
Published April 28th 2009 by Penguin Group US (first published January 1st 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kemper
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
Wayne Barrett

I made Hoover's reputation as a fearless lawman. It's a reputation he doesn't deserve...I made that son of a bitch
Alvin Karpis

Forget about all the hollywood versions of these characters you've ever seen. They're all romanticized and lead the viewer from the real facts of those years of 1934 and 1935. As a matter of fact, Bonnie and Clyde were practically unknown until the 1967 movie made legends of the two.

Public Enemies is a detailed account about the birth of the FBI and their birth pangs dur
...more
Checkman
A well researched account of the crime wave that swept across the Midwestern United States in the early years of the Great Depression. In my opinion interesting for it's look at the last gasp of the colorful, daring, individualistic, outlaw criminal class.

By the early 1930's the world was changing. For better or worse the United States Federal government was becoming more centralized and beginning to control greater resources - quickly surpassing what state and local governments could call on.
...more
G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 G.d. Brennan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jason
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
Kevin
Aug 04, 2011 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John Hood
HARD PRINT http://www.theleadmiamibeach.com/2009...

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
F.R.
Sep 11, 2015 F.R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Fiona Squires
Jul 31, 2011 Fiona Squires rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
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
Terry Cornell
Actually, I give this book a three and 1/2 star rating. Extremely well researched, sources include FBI files released in the 1980s. The movie 'Public Enemies' was loosely based on the book. Mr. Burrough's initial idea was to utilize his research for a television miniseries based on the crime wave of the early 1930s. Fortunately, instead this book was the result. As much a chronicling of the exploits of Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, the Barker Gang, and others--it is also the history of the forma ...more
Rachel
Feb 22, 2016 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
My completion of this book has been an exceptionally long-time coming. I bought this book back in 2009 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
...more
Steven Peterson
Aug 03, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating book. I learned more than I thought possible about early outlaws, such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barker Gang. I also learned how the FBI's pursuit of these gangs--beginning with one disastrous error after another--helped "make" the agency what it is today.

Some interesting contextual factors. Many of the "outlaws" examined were of relatively little moment compared with the gangs, the Mafia, and so on. Bonnie and Clyde,
...more
Ting
Aug 04, 2011 Ting rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kurt
Jul 23, 2011 Kurt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ice
May 12, 2010 Ice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Josh
Mar 29, 2012 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sonja
Jan 22, 2014 Sonja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference-books
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
Jason
Apr 21, 2009 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cathy
Aug 03, 2016 Cathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot believe 1. How badly the cases of these criminals were bungled -- not just once, but repeatedly. 2. How brazen the criminals were. 3. How long they roamed the country -- FREE. 4. How people seemed to romanticize them. 5. How corrupt some police officers were. 6. How many innocent people died because of these criminals. What a crazy time!

I admire how thoroughly this author must have researched these events. The book was fascinating, but not for the faint of heart. I spent some sleepless,
...more
Rae Kasey
May 08, 2009 Rae Kasey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Wrong.

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
Fernando
Jan 25, 2013 Fernando rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Kelsey Hanson
Jan 21, 2016 Kelsey Hanson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is an interesting intro course to 1930s gangsters. It gives a lot of info on some of the most infamous members of the 1930s crime wave including Babyface Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde and John Dilinger. While focusing on these cases, it was also gives you look at the beginnings of the FBI. If you don't know very much about the time period, it's a pretty good place to start. An intriguing, quick read.
Liz Nutting
Jul 31, 2009 Liz Nutting rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Mar 18, 2014 Kate Buford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ken
Jun 25, 2011 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Katherine Addison
This book covers events from the Kansas City Massacre (June 17, 1933) to the arrest of Alvin Karpis (June 1, 1935): the rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the downfalls of the Barkers and Alvin Karpis; Pretty Boy Floyd; Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker; John Dillinger; and Baby Face Nelson. 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 do
...more
Colin
Jul 22, 2015 Colin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is probably a year or two now since revelations about the private life of J Edgar Hoover emerged, and there was much made of his private life with allegations of cross dressing, and his relationship with a fellow member of the FBI. When reading this book, it takes some getting used to, describing events of eighty and more years ago at the start of the organisation. This said, the book gives a great description of the times, and events that gave rise to the creation of the FBI, and their early ...more
Michael K
Mar 22, 2015 Michael K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Public Enemies, John Dillinger (once Public Enemy number 1), and his crew of bank robbers went from state-to-state robbing banks along the way and enjoying themselves. This book had action around every corner, although most of it is true it is still considered a fiction, a historical fiction. This book brought out the bad/good side of people, these men were indeed bad but once you learn what morals (if any) they had. This book gave me a true insight on the harsh realities of life and what love ...more
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  • The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft,  and Detection
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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
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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.” 6 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.” 2 likes
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