F.R.'s Reviews > Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34

Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough
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Aug 24, 09


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 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).

Clearly the author would rather not be writing about Bonnie & Clyde, as their exploits are small-fry compared to everybody else, but because of that movie it is unavoidable. 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.

Of course the stories would only be half told if the FBI wasn’t covered as well, and it’s fair to say this book does not cover them with glory. They were after all a young department prone to frequent, and often baffling, mistakes. To Burrough’s credit though, he restrains himself from bringing up the more lurid stories that have recently attached themselves to Hoover.

This is grade A history – populist to be sure, but immensely readable and brilliantly put together.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Breanne (new)

Breanne This sounds like a very interesting book but (pardon my naievity) is it terribly violent to read about? I would possibly be interested in reading it!


F.R. There are moments of violence in it (of course) but I didn't think they were dwelt upon.

Certainly I took away more the personalities and the social history.


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