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Public Enemies: The True Story of America's Greatest Crime Wave [Paperback]

Bryan Burrough
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 July 2005
In the summer of 1933 an amazing group of chancers, misfits and psychopaths took to the American road. Fuelled by the Depression, fast cars and cheap guns, these freelance gangsters terrorized a vast swathe of banks and drugstores across the Midwest. Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, the Barker gang, Pretty Boy Floyd and others went on a crime spree that turned them into legends in their own - generally quite brief - lifetimes. As they tore across state lines, mocking the police and amassing fortunes, the gangsters had no idea that in Washington their nemesis was forming: J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Public Enemies is the sensational story of the outlaws whose exploits became folklore, and the savage, myth-making response of those who hunted them down.

Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; First Edition edition (7 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014101993X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141019932
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,634,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


" [A] riveting true-crime tale . . . fascinating . . . the real story, it turns out, is much better than the Hollywood version." -"The Wall Street Journal" "A rollicking yarn whose prose bounces across the page like a getaway car through a wheat field." -"Newsweek" "An amazingly detailed true-life thriller that puts us on a stakeout alongside the feds, inside the banks while bullets fly, and inevitably, next to the criminals' bloody corpses." -"Entertainment Weekly" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Bryan Burrough is the author of Dragonfly: Nasa and the Crisis Aboard Mir, Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmond Safra and (with John Helyar) Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco. He lives in New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Contrary to the observations of the Johns, Skyline & Fitzpatrick above; I find the chronological sequencing of the story to be one of it's greatest strengths. (Albeit that I had the advantage of reading it straight through over a two day period whilst laid up in bed! Even though, concentration IS required )
The author rightfully credits those who have gone over the same ground before,but without the benefit of the now opened FBI records.
It transpires that he began where I did back in the 60's with John Toland's excellent 'Dillinger Days'(now once again available on Amazon).
Toland devoted individual chapters, in sequence,to each of the gangs.
But this method tends to obscure the fact that it was all happening over the same short period of time.
Burrough's chronological description of events shows the reality of how intertwined the gangs and their crime wave really were.
'Public Enemies' is extremely well written, with maps of the salient areas of the USA included to show how widespread the gangs roamed over the American landscape during those bloody two years.
Photographs of all the gang members, and many of their accomplices are included, but in the paperback edition these are thumbnail sized only. A 16 page selection of larger photographs is also included, showing photos of many of the events referred to, as covered by the voracious American news media of the day.
Hoover and his FBI come out of the story with very little credit, and their own,(finally) revealed records are generally reponsible for this. Little wonder then that they were suppressed for so long.

Another previously unmentioned aspect of the book is the wonderful sense of time and place; early 1930s America, that the author evokes. This is history at it's best.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By P. D. gray TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I borrowed this book from my local library, read it from cover to cover and it turned out to be one of those books I had to buy a copy of because I knew Id want to read it every year or two. Its an amazing book which clearly has been a labour of love and has been written with the help of a mass of research. It deals with all the well known criminals of that era (machine gun kelly, Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson etc etc) and it interweaves their storys as it progresses through that era detailing all their crimes, escapes from the law and it also paints a bigger picture of how the FBI had to be formed to combat the problem. Its such an addictive read, very enjoyable and the sort of book that evokes the atmosphere of the period in which its set. Its a factual book of course and not done in a silly narrative way...putting words into their mouths, turning it into a novel for example...the author was wise enough to see the tales of these people were fascinating enough and gives it to the reader straight.

Brilliant book, the finest with regards to this subject matter!

.....would like to add that the Johnny Depp movie PUBLIC ENEMIES is very loosely based on this book, they are like chalk and cheese, just used this fab books name really...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A superbly researched book that covers key figures of the 1930's crime wave and the FBI's attempts to bring them to justice - the level of detail is both it's strength (at times you fveel you are there with the action - some of the sequences and action provides riveting reading)and it's weakness (put the book down for a couple of days and you forget who is who and what's happening - there is just so much going on and the story darts from Dillinger to Bonnie and Clyde to the Baker Gang to .... all in 'real' time, which means you need to concentrate)It is a great read ultimately and the author desreves high praise for what must surely be the most comprehensive telling of this period of American history.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tells it like it might well have been 3 Feb 2006
By Mike D
I'm just finishing work on a book about police corruption in early twentieth century New York, and right now Burroughs' book is the one I most wish I had written. He tells a familiar story - the book's about John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, Alvin 'Creepy' Karpis and their demise at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI - but does so in superlative detail. Burroughs' most impressive achievement is to parse nearly a million pages of government files into a rollicking but reliable narrative: it's reputable history, but it achieves the elusive goal of making the reader feel like a participant in the story. And, astonishingly, the author gets through all 592 pages without once mentioning Hoover's fabled predilection for nylons and frocks.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tommy guns,fast cars and dames 3 July 2009
This book is brilliant.With every page you want to know what happens next.Even if,like me,you already know what happened to John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde and the others,it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Its about a short time in American history[1933 to 1936]in the depression years when gangsters were hailed as heroes against the greedy banks.
John Dillinger was like a Robin Hood figure whereas Baby Face Nelson and Clyde Barrow were just psychopaths in the same business.Great read and much better than Michael Manns movie of the same name.This is in your face stuff without givibng you the headaches from wayching a shaky camera shot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Public Enemies
The author has clearly put an awful lot of time and effort into creating this book. It is not an easy book to read as there are lots of times / dates / associated characters to... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Eastbayray
5.0 out of 5 stars Public Enemies
After watching the film I wanted to get hold of the book, was posted very quickly and is in excellent condition
Published 5 months ago by Mark D.
4.0 out of 5 stars Explodes the myths
A very good history of the period in the 1930s when the FBI was born, cutting their teeth by chasing gangs of ruthless bank robbers. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Fogorig
5.0 out of 5 stars well written interesting read
Very good book cuts through the usual BS talked about the FBI and "gangsters".well researched historically accurate.A rivetting read . Read more
Published 12 months ago by IAN RUSSELL
5.0 out of 5 stars great book good deal thanks
Bought it for my son we loved it so much bought the film read it on holiday couldn't put it down
Published 18 months ago by Belinda
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
This is,without doubt, one of the best researched and written books about the depression era criminals I have read. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Renko
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book .
After watching a film based on the book, I decided that it would be interesting to buy a copy of Public Enemies. Read more
Published on 12 July 2012 by V. W. Arnold
5.0 out of 5 stars Public Enemies Book
The book is excellent, arrived on time before my holiday.

Cost wise very good.
Published on 16 Oct 2010 by Mr. L. A. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars A SELECTIVE HISTORY
A good book - spoilt somewhat by the annoying chronological editing, which tends to lurch from gang to different gang often in different mid-west states simultaneously . . . Read more
Published on 29 Sep 2010 by P. Fraser
3.0 out of 5 stars Gang Warfare American Style
Bryan Burrough co-wrote "Barbarians at the Gate", one of the best books ever written about business. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2009 by John Fitzpatrick
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