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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  5,385 ratings  ·  502 reviews
In Public Enemies, bestselling author Bryan Burrough strips away the thick layer of myths put out by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to tell the full story—for the first time—of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young Hoover and the assortment of criminals who became national icons: John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyd ...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published June 28th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published July 15th 2004)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  5,385 ratings  ·  502 reviews

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Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
“Eight miles south of Gibsland, [Bonnie and Clyde] crested a rise and spotted Ivy Methvin standing beside his truck, which was jacked up in the road. Bonnie put her sandwich down, and placed it on the magazine spread across her lap. Beneath the magazine was a Colt .45. Clyde took his foot off the accelerator and let the Ford coast to a stop beside Methvin’s truck. Clyde turned his head to the right, toward Methvin and his truck, and away from the six guns that were aimed directly at his head…Jus ...more
Aug 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 du
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A 550 page book that reads fast. Highly recommended. Really enjoyed how he painted the outlaws and the law in their true colors. The FBI and the local law enforcement are inept and/or corrupt in the beginning but the FBI gets better after many failed "battles" and real losses. The outlaws are not very bright for the most part but clever in many ways. Also lucky. Hollywood did a real disservice with the movie Bonnie and Clyde. These two were not in any way romantic or admirable, as they were port ...more
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.
G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Fiona Squires
Jul 31, 2011 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
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
Robert Vanneste
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up . A good read . Very well researched .
BAM Endlessly Booked
So much gangsta crime the year this book covers! I had no idea. The country was in the grip of the Great Depression and these various criminals took matters into their own hands to seek money and fame across American. Hoover was on the case and his newly assigned G men were a tad Keystone for awhile. This is the story
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
John Hood

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 Dillinge
Jan 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Pulp history

I always wanted to be a G-man.

Burrough's treatment of 1930s crime is only a few generations away from the books I devoured as a kid. Books chock full of hoods, coppers, molls and bullets. Mel Purvis bringing down Dillinger & and Ma Barker dying with a machine gun in her hands.

Public Enemies and the books I used to read have the same source - the FBI itself.

The key difference is that while my childhood books relied on the FBI's PR wing, Burroughs relies on internal FBI reports that w
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about the major criminals in the early 1930s. The author did an excellent job of investigating quite a number of different criminals. These criminals included Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, pretty boy Floyd, and baby face Nelson.

A description of each of their dastardly deeds, timing, and ultimate downfall, are included in this book.

I enjoyed it immensely. Additionally, this was at a time when the Federal Bureau of investigation was just forming. That organization was integral
Steven Peterson
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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,
Jun 05, 2011 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
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 circumstanc ...more
Renée Bates
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. ...more
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating!
Was able to watch part of the filming as they took over our town for a month.
May 12, 2010 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 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
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jeff Stevens
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting history of the early FBI and crime wave of the early 1930'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 ...more
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
In Public Enemies, bestselling author Bryan Burrough strips away the thick layer of myths put out by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to tell the full story—for the first time—of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young Hoover and the assortment of criminals who became national icons: John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barkers. In an epic feat of storytelling and drawing on a remarkable amount of ...more
Sep 04, 2018 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." Overall, a well-done discussion of the truth about some of the gangsters of the era, and the struggles within the FBI to get off the ground and be effective as a law enforcement agency. Gets a little bogged down by details at certai ...more
Sugarpuss O'Shea
This book knocks the sheen off of both the gangsters -- who the public has always put on a pedestal -- and the G-Men who hunted them. Both groups of men are examined as what they were: The gangsters as cold-blooded killers who'd do anything to get what they wanted; & the Feds, who started out as Keystone Cops & morphed into men who would do anything to get their man -- even if it included killing or fudging the truth to get a conviction. That is the true virtue of this book. . . A fascinating re ...more
Alger Smythe-Hopkins
Burrough pulls off a very difficult hat trick here, and one that is hard to appreciate.

The goal of this book is to drag in an unreported backstory from the unclassified files of the FBI and knit it into a story that most people think they already know. This is even a story that has been told before, the story of the birth of the FBI out of its victory over the Dillinger gang, the Nelsons, the Floyds, the Barkers, and the sudden explosion of violent interstate crimes has been told time and again
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
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Very informative about a tumultuous time in American history.
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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.

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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.” 7 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.” 6 likes
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