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

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Bryan Burrough(Author)

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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 newly available material on all the major figures involved, Burrough reveals a web of interconnections within the vast American underworld and demonstrates how Hoover’s G-men overcame their early fumbles to secure the FBI’s rise to power.

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Book details

  • PDF | 640 pages
  • Bryan Burrough(Author)
  • Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 28, 2005)
  • English
  • 3
  • Politics & Social Sciences

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Review Text

  • By Steven Peterson on August 3, 2009

    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, for instance, were scarcely known by the public at large.The FBI, before the events of 1933-1936, was a kind of backwater agency, without a clearly defined mission. There was even talk, with Franklin Roosevelt's election, that the agency's head, J. Edgar Hoover, would be removed. After an effort to bring a criminal to justice, the "Kansas City Massacre" occurred, in which the FBI's effort failed, Hoover began to consider a more active role in criminal investigation and action, focusing on well know gangs and criminals (with much focus on the gangs mentioned earlier).The book itself is almost like a slow dance, going back and forth (in largely chronological sequence) between the different gangs and the FBI. We see the robberies and murders carried out by the gangs (varying from the psychopathic Machine Gun Kelly to the more "urbane" [if one can use such a term] John Dillinger). We see the relationships among gang members (sometimes moving from one gang to another), the development and ending of relationships with women, and the mythology (Ma Barker was not anything like a criminal mastermind, and Bonnie and Clyde were looked at as minor leaguers).The FBI part of the story began with them as clueless about how to operate in the field (they were weak in understanding the use of guns before the campaign against the gangs began); they were inept on the simplest elements of sleuthing (including observation of suspects, how to surround "bad guys" so that they could not escape, an appalling lack of follow up on some terrific leads). Early on? "Amateur hour."But the FBI learned and began to reel the gangs and their members in. . . .A fascinating book. If you are interested in the era, the gangs, and the role of the FBI, this will be a fine read.

  • By sublib on August 4, 2013

    "...the familiar smell of fresh hops and barley hung thick outside Hamm's Brewery, which rose from the streets of Minneapolis like some medieval European castle."If Mr. Burrough is unable to distinguish between Minneapolis and St. Paul- St. Paul being the actual home of the Hamm's Brewery, and the Hamm's mansion- I wonder what other blatant errors his book contains. I was enjoying the read until I ran across this ridiculous mistake.Such an obvious error also calls into question the efficacy of the editing.I will continue reading the book, but with a highly skeptical eye as it relates to his command of the facts.Preposterous.

  • By Old School on July 5, 2017

    First, I want to emphasize that I think this book is excellent and I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject matter. I like how it is organized chronologically, following the actions of the various criminals in parallel. It's loaded with details that I found very interesting and I think it was about time to debunk the myth about Purvis who was really more of a bumbling, over-confident publicity hound than he has generally been portrayed. It's also interesting that he wasn't even in charge in Chicago when Dillinger was killed or after that. The real hero who deserves the credit that Purvis stole for himself was Samuel Cowley who did his work and cared little or nothing for publicity. Sadly, he died in the shootout with Baby Face Nelson.Another myth that the author debunked was that Hoover hounded Purvis out of the FBI out of jealousy. While that may be partly true because Purvis claimed credit for things he hadn't done, Hoover's main problem with Purvis was that he (Purvis) bungled things up so much. He was extremely incompetent. Also, Hoover didn't want publicity for individual FBI agents (except himself, of course - Hoover had a huge ego), but rather to the entire FBI as an organization.The book does have it's problems though. First the nit-picking and then the more serious problems. For someone writing about a subject that includes the use of firearms on virtually every page, you would think that Burroughs would have gotten basic firearm terminology down. He refers to ammunition as "bullets." (I see he even misuses that term in a documentary I recently saw.) To those unfamiliar with firearms, a bullet is only part of a round of ammunition. It's the component that leaves the barrel of a gun when fired. Ammunition is made up of a casing, primer, powder and a bullet. Burroughs should know that. Also, he refers to a Luger piston as a "lugar" and doesn't seem to know the difference between a pistol and a revolver.OK, that's nit-picking. But a more serious problem arises from Burrough's claim in the author's notes at the beginning of the book, "Please keep one thing in mind as you read: This book was not 'imagined,' as some recent popular histories. It was reported..."The problem is that virtually every page of the book has long quotes of conversations that nobody could have possibly remembered. Burroughs would almost have one thinking that a stenographer was with every character in the book 24 hours a day recording every conversations. Even those involved couldn't possibly remember the exact words of their conversations. But Burroughs goes even farther. He tells us what the people were thinking and how they felt even for people who died shortly after the supposed conversation and couldn't have described those conversations to anyone. He also describes things that nobody could possibly have even thought of, let alone describe to someone else later - especially the FBI. This may not seem like a serious problem but it colors and influences the reader's understanding of the outlaws.There are also some blatant factual errors in the book although that's to be expected with such a large book. For example, Burroughs tells us that Bonnie Parker's leg was severely injured when Clyde crashed his car. Burroughs says the car caught on fire and Bonnie's leg was severely burned by fire. Actually, according to all sources that I am aware of including contemporary witnesses, it wasn't fire that burned Bonnie's leg but battery acid.Other than that, the book has numerous small errors including the names of towns, etc. For example, it's Palatine (IL), not Palestine. It's Bensenville (IL), not Bensonville, etc. Yes, this is nit-picking and it's almost certainly just a publisher's error.That said, I really did enjoy the book and I think it's one of the best on the subject.


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