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Public Enemies

Public Enemies

Written by Bryan Burrough

Narrated by Campbell Scott


Public Enemies

Written by Bryan Burrough

Narrated by Campbell Scott

ratings:
4/5 (10 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Released:
Jul 1, 2004
ISBN:
9780743539913
Format:
Audiobook

Description

The astonishing true story of America's first and greatest "War on Crime."
In Public Enemies, Bryan Burrough strips away a thick layer of myths put out by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI to tell the full story of the most spectacular crime wave in American history, the two-year battle between the young Hoover and an 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 1933, police jurisdictions ended at state lines, the FBI was in its infancy, and fast cars and machine guns were easily available. It was a great time to be a bank robber. On hand were a motley crew of criminal masterminds, sociopaths, romantics, and cretins.
Bryan Burrough has unearthed an extraordinary amount of new material on all the major figures involved -- revealing many fascinating interconnections in the vast underworld ecosystem that stretched from Texas up to Minnesota.
But the real-life connections were insignificant next to the sense of connectedness J. Edgar Hoover worked to create in the mind of the American public-using the "Great Crime Wave" to gain the position of untouchable power he would occupy for almost half a century.
Released:
Jul 1, 2004
ISBN:
9780743539913
Format:
Audiobook


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What people think about Public Enemies

4.1
10 ratings / 8 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    Very interesting stories, and a lot different - and more complete and truer to events - than Michael Mann's film. However, this suffers from two significant drawbacks: the language the author uses is not particularly appealing - it gets rather monotonous - and the sheer volume of information is overwhelming at times. While this may be positive to people who study these subjects more profoundly, it's just too much information and too many accounts for most readers, who probably only want to know a bit about the lives of the great 1930s American gangsters and the birth and growth of the FBI. Still, there are some very interesting and exciting episodes, but the book would benefit from a less dense and overwhelmingly detailed account.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed reading this.The formation of the FBI and the rise and fall of gangsters such as Dillinger,Baby face Nelson and others.An exciting story well told.
  • (5/5)
    well-written book. I was looking for a book that would help me to learn more about the public enemy era of the 1930's and I was not disappointed at all by this book!
  • (5/5)
    When I heard the film 'Public Enemies' was based on a book, I wanted to read it. Well, as usual, the film is not really like the book, so I'll leave it at that.The book, however, is a wealth of information on America's 'War on Crime' in the 1930s.Bryan Burrough managed to get information from almost everywhere and was therefore able to put together a book which covers the criminals who were the main focus of the FBI. It also gives insight in America in the time of the depression. In short: this is a complete and well written account of the War on Crime. A must read.
  • (4/5)
    In 1930, there was no FBI. Instead, a little-known bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover was given leadership of a backwater investigative branch of the US Department of Justice with no arrest authority or firearms - but they did have a reputation for corruption and political cronyism. By late 1935, this bureau had become the prototypical national police force for the US and had transformed itself into a well-regarded, professional organization taking on the Depression-era gangsters in the Roosevelt administration's War on Crime. In Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Bryan Burrough uses a myriad of sources - including newly opened FBI files - to tell the story of the hunt for bank robbers and criminal gangs that are now icons in America and how that hunt led to an almost mythic FBI.In the late 20's and early 30's, the Midwest United States produced some now-famous folks - John DIllinger and his gang, the Barker-Karpis gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, Babyface Nelson, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Most were bank robbers and kidnappers, some were just petty criminals that wound up killing lawmen. These groups were highly mobile and often used jurisdictional lines to escape pursuit. In June 1933, during the transportation of an escaped federal prisoner, agents of the Bureau of Investigation were ambushed in Kansas City, with four agents and the prisoner killed. While the details of the firefight are highly controversial, the attack resulted in Hoover's FBI becoming deeply involved in the hunt for the shooters and Congress passing legislation to give the FBI authority to make arrests and to carry firearms. When the Barker-Karpis gang committed a high-visibility kidnapping later that year, the FBI got pulled into the hunt for all these gangs to some degree.Initially, the FBI was awful at its job. Many mistakes were made that allowed targets to evade capture. Dillinger was allowed to break out of jail more than once after capture. A surprisingly high number of arrest attempts ended with agents killed because the agents weren't trained in tactics and firearm use. Much of their investigative technique was sheer dumb luck. In the end, though, all of the "public enemies" were killed or arrested. And Hoover was able to manipulate the media at every turn to build the FBI mystique that endured until the 1970s when details of the bureau's domestic spying started leaking out.Burrough's book is an exciting look at this short, but fascinating, period of American history. He tells the story chronologically, with overlap between the stories of the individual gangs and the investigators going after them. This approach really brought out the interconnections between the various gangs. I had never realized before now just how much these people interacted with each other. He's also quite good at referencing his sources, although some would say he gives too much credit to the accuracy of the FBI files (his approach appears to be to give precedence to FBI reports written just after an event). He's critical of Hoover at almost every opportunity. Mostly, I think he's right, but other authors will disagree in some murkier cases such as the identity of the Kansas City shooters and the part played by the FBI agents in starting the fight.In the end, Public Enemies is a good start for anyone interested in the events described here, and Burrough's bibliography makes a good jumping off point for further reading.
  • (4/5)
    Exhaustive history of the pursuit of John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barker Gang, Baby Face Nelson, Alvin Karpis, and others from 1933 to 1935. At times, the day to day description gets tedious, but Burrough is doing is best to get the facts straight. However, seeing the day-to-day lives of the outlaws between bank robberies and kidnappings tends to humanize them even more, and they dominate the book. The FBI's Melvin Purvis comes across as a media-obsessed amateur, though not without courage, while J. Edgar Hoover is a distant presence in Washington for most of the book, spending his time writing self-serving memos.What is most interesting is seeing the loyalty some of the bad guys and their families had for each other - the Barrow and Parker clans meeting Bonnie and Clyde at prearranged spots for picnics and family reunions. Outlaws braving gunfire to drag another outlaw to the getaway car. The first two-thirds of the book are one seemingly impossible escape after another, when inept FBI agents and other law enforcement officials let Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and others escape from what would appear to be solid traps. In time, of course, the FBI gets better - or perhaps it is just sheer force of numbers. Even more amazing is the number of times someone like Dillinger escapes from jail when he is caught. Very few characters in this book are without some sort of corruption.This book takes us back to a time and place that is thankfully long gone. Cops and robbers slugging it out in downtown streets with tommy guns. Getaway cars speeding away with hostages clinging to the running boards. The books's accuracy is still a good question, however. Burrough does his best, sometimes pointing out obvious errors or deliberate misstatements in FBI records, but a few pages later he is quoting FBI records as an authority. Then there are the dim and distant memories of the few living witnesses to the bad old days - or perhaps only the sons or daughters of such witnesses. Burrough also quotes from long-forgotten stories in a variety of sources - and there is really no way to vouch for their truth except to compare several accounts, use a little common sense, and come up with what seems plausible.In the end, perhaps it doesn't matter so much, so long as the essence is true. The book will keep your interest throughout its great length, and you'll emerge with a much more colorful picture of America in the early 1930s.
  • (3/5)
    While rather repetitive in its epsodic mini-sagas of various 1930s mobsters, the book nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into the early days of the FBI, and the remarkable toughness and resiliance of such legendary charaters as Bonnie and Clyde.
  • (4/5)
    Crime. That's a theme in the books that I have been reading this year. Atwood's Alias Grace, crime novel. Choke? Definitely has seedy elements that should be crimes. American Psycho, check. Maltese Falcon, check.

    Anyway, sometimes it's interested to examine the types of books that you read. :)

    This book was great. I will say that while I was reading this, I knew it was going to be a movie with my fav actor, Johnny Depp, and that might have influenced my feelings for the book.

    But to look at why this is a good novel. It is a very well-researched novel, but it doesn't read like an essay paper. It is engaging. I found myself wanting to read more, and more, until I finished this beast of a book.

    One of the most interesting things that Burrough does is that he takes these crimes and puts them into context. While Dillinger was robbing a bank, the Barker Gang was _________. It's interesting. He also puts into context globally. Like Hitler was using all of these criminals s an example for why Germany should sterilize criminals (so they can't breed more criminals).

    Burrough also reminds us that these crimes were happening at a time when most Americans were suffering harshly from the effects of the Great Depression. And I had never thought about these criminals in that sense before.

    A good read.

    PS. When he was talking about Baby Face Nelson....who hung out a lot in Nevada--well, I knew all the small towns he hung out. :)