Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough

“In 600 days the modern FBI was born. This is the story of how it happened.” (page 9, hardcover.)

This is a very dense book. Burrough’s provided us with a glut of information - using overlapping timelines to keep it straight. It’s probably the most efficient way to get the story across and create tension and suspense...Bonnie's dying from a car-fire and across the country four other Yeggs (what the FBI called Bank Robbers) are doing dastardly deeds including kidnapping, springing their buddies from jail, gunning down lawmen, and taking vacations. (Who knew Hot Springs Arkansas used to be where all the Cool Kids went?) Burroughs has also given us copious bibliographical references and footnotes to ensure no stone is left unturned. And no stone is - we even get childhood backgrounds where they’re available.

There are awesome facts that you might never know, given the way Hollywood likes to spin things. For instance: Bonnie and Clyde were nowhere near as cute as the movie made them out to be. They never earned much fame when they were alive and many of their “peers” felt they didn’t deserve it after they died. I actually believe that if it weren’t for Bonnie’s poetry, they might have faded into obscurity outside of Dallas. Ma Barker was *not* the Criminal Mastermind the FBI made her out to be. And it was the FBI that did it. They needed someone people could throw stones at and they chose her (something that I suspect the government has done many times - before and since Ma Barker had her 15 minutes.) And that’s just the first 60 pages.

At the beginning of the book - before the prologue - there are timelines, family trees, and maps. You’ll need those. In the middle of the book are a bunch of photos, which is handy and enlightening. Burrough covers everyone from little known petty thieves to Machine Gun Kelly to Pretty Boy Floyd to John Dillinger…there’s even a brush with Murder, Inc.

Confession: every time someone mentions Dillinger I go to this quote from High Fidelity:

“John Dillinger was killed behind that theater in a hale of FBI gunfire. And do you know who tipped them off? His fucking girlfriend. All he wanted to do was go to the movies.”

Like any good gangster buff I knew of Dillinger before the movie came out, but that phrasing resonates.

Sometimes it reads like a gossip column, sometimes like a history text, and often like a how-to manual: How to Rob A Bank/Stage a Kidnapping in the Days Before Television, Amber Alerts, Motion Censors, Mobile Phones, and a Budgeted FBI. It’s chock full of information that criss-crosses the country. Try not to be too amused at an essentially impotent FBI, although some of the “Truth” about our Notorious Heroes did make me laugh out loud. This book is well worth reading, but it’s an investment in your time, and it’s hard to hold up in the bath.

I can’t wait to see how it translates to the big screen.

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