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The Year of Fear: Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt That Changed the Nation

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  64 reviews
It's 1933 and Prohibition has given rise to the American gangster--now infamous names like Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger. Bank robberies at gunpoint are commonplace and kidnapping for ransom is the scourge of a lawless nation. With local cops unauthorized to cross state lines in pursuit and no national police force, safety for kidnappers is just a short trip on back ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Minotaur Books
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James Higbie No relation. The author states this fact in the beginning of the book.

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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, but very textbook. Not much more than this happened followed by this followed by this etc. without much more outside of the events of the story (not sure I am describing this well, but it stood out a lot compared to other non-fiction I have read)

For history buffs, for mafia buffs, for true crime buffs I think this quick read about one of America's most notorious criminals will be well received.

I just found this sweet poster from a 1950s movie starring Charles Bronson (his first
Fred Shaw
Oct 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
The author of "The Year of Fear", Joe Urschel, wrote the story of Machine Gun Kelly's kidnapping of Charles Urscel, a rich oil tycoon who by the way was no relation to the author, and subsequent capture of Kelly by the US Federal government. What an interesting coincidence between author and character. J. Edgar Hoover was able to get a national police force (FBI) established by catching Kelly. BUT, he could not have caught Kelly in the short amount of time he was able to, if Kelly had not let Ur ...more
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
My first win of a Goodreads Advanced Readers Copy is a good one! A solid 4 Star account of "Machine Gun" Kelly's kidnapping of Charles Urschel, one of the most famous crimes of the day---that I had not ever heard of. This story is at the heart of many events that will be familiar to us all:

-The rise of J Edgar Hoover
-The transformation of the FBI into a premier law enforcement agency
-The start of massive growth of federal criminal law
-The building of Alcatraz prison
-The use of propaganda by an a
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
A barn burner. George “Machine Gun” Kelly may be the main character, but this is a great look at America in the early 1930s when Prohibition has given rise to gangsters and G-men. Bank robberies at gunpoint are becoming common place, and a new crime – kidnappings for ransom (“the snatch racket”; think Lindbergh’s baby) – is sweeping the nation. In steps newly appointed J. Edgar Hoover with a mission dictated by FDR to clean up this national crime wave. Arresting and prosecuting Kelly and his com ...more
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
What a ride this book is! I’ve always been interested in the time of Prohibition and beyond when gangsters held many cities in their grip. Prohibition always seemed so completely un-American to me, the idea that the government should decide whether citizens could drink alcohol or not.

But this book centers on the time when Prohibition was about to end and gangsters such as Machine Gun Kelly were facing the extinction of their gin running operations and looking for other ways to fund their lifesty
victor harris
Nov 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When George " Machine Gun" Kelly and his gang captured oil magnate Joe Urschel Sr. they not only ignited a madcap manhunt but also altered the course of American law enforcement history. Federal law enforcement and what would be known as the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was largely toothless at the time. Agents didn't even carry weapons and Hoover's job was in peril. That all changed with a spate of kidnappings on the heels of the famous Lindbergh Kidnapping. Members of wealthy families were often ...more
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The year is 1933 and organized crime seems to rule the nation. The FBI is considered inept, most police departments are in the pockets of organized crime and now that prohibition is over kidnapping is the easy way to raise money. So when George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife, Katheryn decide to kidnap Charles Urschel, it seems like a simple job. But J. Edgar Hoover is in charge of the FBI and he, along with the new attorney general and FDR, are looking to put a stop to organized crime. What fo ...more
Sugarpuss O'Shea
A man walks in to the Library of Congress, and types his last name into the LOCs searchable database -- the 1982 version of a Google search. He comes up with 1 hit: A man named Charles Urschel, who was a kidnap victim of none other than Machine Gun Kelly. Needless to say, the author is mesmerized by this story, and his intellectual curiosity becomes the basis of this book. (I'm a sucker for stuff like this.)

In the 1930s, the Urschel kidnapping was the biggest kidnapping case since the Lindburgh'
Dec 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I'd heard about Machine Gun Kelly and his wife years ago in Bloodletters and Badmen, but didn't know the whole story. Thought I would check this out when I saw it at the library.

It's an exciting tale about the kidnapping, and it takes place near a few of my old stomping grounds in Oklahoma and North Texas.

Unfortunately, the telling is only average. The kidnapping portions are good, simply because of the subject matter. Urschel was a badass, and they definitely picked the wrong guy to kidnap. B
David Warners
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Had some interesting stretches but was twice as long as it needed to be.
Sep 15, 2015 rated it liked it
An interesting and novelistic telling of a reign of terror in the American heartland during the darl years of the Depression of the 1930's.
The terror came fron bandits who ran wild, robbing banks almost at will, shooting up small towns, taking hostages and killing bystanders. Then, inspired, if that is the word, by the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping they branch out into kidnapping as a lucrative sideline. Soon, the wealthy came to fear every stranger's gaze. Once the upper class complained , the
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
I received this book for free from a Goodreads giveaway. I found it to be very well researched, well organized and well written. It brings to life one of the most notorious gangsters of the 1930's and gives the reader a view of who George "Machine Gun" Kelly was and how he actually and unwittingly helped to create the FBI and made J. Edgar Hoover famous.
As someone with a B.A. in American History, I found it very interesting, in that it gave a different view of the Prohibition Era gangster's t
Sep 13, 2015 added it
I just finished this book, and it was a great read. Tells of the advent of the FBI during the depression era. Machine Gun Kelly was the catalyst, kidnapping was the money maker for the gangsters. It's based on actual events, using testimony of those still surviving today, news paper stories and correspondence between the players. It tells of the king of the oil men, Tom Slick, and his trusted accountant, Charles F. Urschel, who was kidnapped by Kelly, at the request of Kelly's money hungry wife ...more
Aug 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, true-crime
In the 1930's, when bootlegging became unnecessary and banks didn't have enough money to make bank robbery worth the risk, gangsters turned to kidnapping. Local police could not cross state lines to pursue kidnappers and were likely to be in cahoots with the criminals. In 1933 a federal kidnapping law changed this and Joe Urschel's kidnapping became the first to be solved and prosecuted under the new law.

“Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife Kathryn were colorful characters—charming, good-looking and
Susan Csoke
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
George and Kathryn Kelly were in the banking business{?!} in Boulder Colorado, a twelve hour commute from their home in Fort Worth. George spent a lifetime as a bootlegger. Since his release from prison in February of 1930, Kelly has made a career of robbing banks. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> J. Edgar Hoover at age 36 was the Director of the U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of Investigation. His teams investigation of the lindbergh baby kidnapping had been a laughable failure. When he was awakened by a phon ...more
Fredrick Danysh
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: advance-read, history
An excellent discussion of the events in 1933 surrounding the kidnapping of Charles Urschel by George "Machine Gun" Kelley and the role of J. Edgar Hoover. There is some early biographical data on the major players as well as there ultimate fates. The attitudes of the Kelley gang and Hoover are discussed as well as Hoover's willingness to break the law to gain and hold power. This is a good historical read of the gangster years of the Great Depression. My copy was a free review copy through Good ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Learned how the FBI was started and it's tainted past. Kelly's trial has a sham and the judge should have never been allowed to be the judge because he was a friend of the victim. The judicial system was more corrupt back in the 30's than it is now. Also police brutality and corruption were worse back then than even now. I don't want to sound to much like a liberal, but Kelly was indeed a bad guy and needed to be locked up. The more things change the more they stay the same. ...more
Patrick Macke
Jan 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
interesting times and circumstances, but this book is mostly about the earliest days of the FBI and. J Edgar Hoover's heavy-handed, publicity-seeking hand therein ... no real "fear" or crime drama, as Kelly's threat was really overblown ... I'd call this book a not-so-near miss ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting subject but the author spends too much time transcribing the trial record when he should be writing.

Worth a skim not a read.
Neil Pierson
Sep 14, 2017 rated it liked it
In the United States today, there is certainly a high level of anxiety (obsession? hysteria?) about terrorism. Back in the 1930s, there was that same level of interest and fear about kidnapping. Gangsters were the 1930s version of ISIS, and the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder was the 1930s version of September 11.

In 1933, criminals realized that they could no longer rely on two dependable cash cows: Bank robbery and bootlegging. The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression sucked cash out of the banks. A
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Review of the Audiobook

Published in 2015 by Macmillan Audio.
Read by Jeremy Bobb.
Duration: 9 hours, 4 minutes.

In the early years of the Great Depression, kidnapping became a fairly common crime, especially in the Midwest. It was viewed by some as a safer alternative to bank robberies, especially since unsuspecting victims were often not armed.

The most famous kidnapping of the era was the Lindbergh baby case. It ended tragically, but did result in a Federal anti-kidnapping law. That l
Aug 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Joe Urschel went to the Library of Congress and did what many of us might do: he searched the library data base for his last name. Imagine his surprise when it turned up the name of one of America's most famous kidnapping victims.

In the resulting book, he details the kidnapping of Charles Urschel (no relation, it turns out) in an entertaining, well-written book that captures the flavor of the times when bad men were revered, when kidnapping was becoming a cottage industry in the US and when the
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book both informative and engaging. America during the 1920's and 30's is one of my favorite eras to read about, and this one didn't disappoint. Mr. Urschel did an excellent job of researching the crime wave in the American mid-west, and also presented the various perspectives of all parties. The book centers on the manhunt for Machine Gun Kelly gang as a result of the kidnapping of a wealthy Oklahoma City oil magnate. This, coming on the heels of a new kidnapping law enacted based ...more
May 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've become quite interested in mobster gangland reading through several good books. This was another one. It's funny how different a lot of these individuals were compared to the stories and reputations carried on by popular culture and media. Machine Gun Kelly is a perfect example. A well written account of the incident that made him infamous. And a lesson that sometimes reputations are larger than reality. Plus, the more of these books I read and become familiar with these gangsters, the more ...more
Richard Marteeny
Dec 05, 2021 rated it liked it
The book surrounds the exploits of George Kelly and his wife Katherine, specifically the kidnapping of Charles Urschel, an Oklahoma oil man. The author goes in detail about the times, the "Depression" and the "Dust Bowl" and how it gave rise to the desperate characters, such as these. He portrays Machine Gun Kelly is a hen-pecked- lug with a machine gun and Katherine as a manipulative-narcissist. But the true villain in this story is J. Edgar Hoover, who brings a whole new definition to self-pre ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I really enjoyed this book. I have a number of connections personally, or through family, with many of the locations. It connected some events together, like the shooting at Union Station in KC. It has inspired me to do some further research in the connection between family that lived and worked in Cushing, OK. Overall it’s a well organized snapshot into a period of American history that we are familiar with, but there’s so much more.
Katya Colvin
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-2018
It is an interesting read, correlates with another non-fiction book from around the same time #killingthemoomflowers. It gives quite a lively picture of why gangsters were popular and how the perspectives changed and who changed them; it also vividly describes the desperation of Great Depression and exerts of the book should read in schools about. Quite an easy read for a non-fiction too, which is always a plus.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Fascinating book about organized crime in America in the 1930's and 40's and the birth of the FBI as a federal agency.

On a purely personal note, this book had way too many names to remember. I get it that it's non-fiction, but still, there were really an exceptionally large number of names to try to remember.
Christopher DuMont
Dec 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book and brought to life a time that is not easily understood today. As much as you think about the Wild West being back in the 1800's, the lawless environment of the 1930's and the effort put forward to tame the criminals of that time is quite amazing. The story of Machine Gun Kelly is fascinating and one that is worth reading. Definitely recommend this book. ...more
Dragged on about 1/2 way through, but interesting history of bank robbery, into kidnapping and the FBI that seems to have formed its foundation in investigating crimes over state boarders and how that agency came to be
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