Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One

Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One

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by Elliott J. Gorn
     
 

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In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds--spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring--provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a salacious mix of sex and… See more details below

Overview

In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds--spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring--provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a salacious mix of sex and violence that proved irresistible.
In Dillinger's Wild Ride, Elliott J. Gorn provides a riveting account of the year between 1933 and 1934, when the Dillinger gang pulled over a dozen bank jobs, and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen men--police, FBI agents, gangsters, and civilians--lost their lives in the rampage, and American newspapers breathlessly followed every shooting and jail-break. As Dillinger's wild year unfolded, the tale grew larger and larger in newspapers and newsreels, and even today, Dillinger is the subject of pulp literature, serious poetry and fiction, and films, including a new movie starring Johnny Depp. What is the power of his story? Why has it lingered so long? Who was John Dillinger? Gorn illuminates the significance of Dillinger's tremendous fame and the endurance of his legacy, arguing that he represented an American fascination with primitive freedom against social convention. Dillinger's story has much to tell us about our enduring fascination with outlaws, crime and violence, about the complexity of our transition from rural to urban life, and about the transformation of America during the Great Depression.
Dillinger's Wild Ride is a compulsively readable story with an unforgettable protagonist.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Dillinger's Wild Ride is, inevitably, a rehash of familiar stories about Dillinger's crime spree. But Gorn -- a professor of history at Brown University who has a particular interest in popular history and sports -- tries hard to separate fact from myth, and he makes plausible arguments for why Dillinger captured the popular imagination.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Gorn (Mother Jones) presents a solid, unromanticized account of the last year in the short life of famed bank robber John Dillinger. Gorn rejects psychologizing about why Dillinger, the unexceptional if restless grocer's son, born in Indianapolis in 1903, turned to a life of crime, arrested first in 1924 for assaulting an elderly store clerk in a botched robbery. After spending nine years-almost a third of his short life-in jail, Dillinger found a Depression-era America far different from the one he'd left. Less than two months into his parole, Dillinger and the first in a revolving parade of Dillinger gang members robbed the Commercial Bank in Daleville, Ind., making off with $3,500. Between July 1933 and his death just one year later, Dillinger robbed more than 10 banks, killed at least five people (all lawmen) and stole over $300,000, all the while evading capture by local law enforcement and later the FBI. Gorn, who teaches at Brown University, relies on newspaper accounts and government documents (and, thankfully, no reconstructed dialogue) to plot the movements of a criminal who, 75 years after his death, still reverberates in the American consciousness. 30 b&w photos. (June)

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Library Journal

Is this a good time for another Dillinger book? The author thinks so, and readers will too by the end of the book. Gorn (history & American studies, Brown Univ.; The Manly Art) has produced an excellent account-a fast-paced romp that's hard to put down-of the short life and times of the outlaw John Dillinger. Covering not just Dillinger's final year, which was full of bank robberies, jailbreaks, and covert visits home, the author paints a picture of the 1930s America that Dillinger experienced. Mostly throughout the Midwest, Dillinger managed to elude authorities-even breaking out of jail by brandishing a wooden gun. The federal agency that became the FBI made his capture their top priority. With economic parallels to today, it is not hard to understand why the public hero-worshipped Dillinger. He was seen as a kind of Robin Hood-he robbed the banks that had lost the life savings of so many. With Johnny Depp playing Dillinger in a summer 2009 movie, this should prove a popular book. Recommended for general readers and crime aficionados; history buffs will appreciate the detailed notes.
—Karen Sandlin Silverman

Kirkus Reviews
One year in the life of legendary criminal John Dillinger. With this new biography of the Depression-era bank robber, Gorn (History/Brown Univ.; Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, 2001, etc.) demonstrates that the American popular imagination never seems to tire of Dillinger and his legend. Since his death at the hands of federal agents on July 22, 1934, that legend has only grown. He has been the subject of popular fiction and nonfiction for years, as well as numerous films, including the upcoming Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger. Gorn specifically addresses the phenomenon of Dillinger's glamorous image and searches for an explanation of American society's enduring fascination with outlaws. The author focuses on a one-year period in 1933 and '34, when Dillinger and his gang robbed more than a dozen banks across the country. In the process, more than a dozen policemen, civilians, and gang members were killed, and reporters followed the gang's exploits every step of the way. Though they were captured in January 1934, Dillinger managed to escape jail by-legend has it-carving a fake gun out of wood and brandishing it at the guards. Whether the wooden-gun story is true is still a point of contention-and Gorn doesn't seek to solve the mystery-but newspapers reported it as real and began to write about Dillinger as a "calm, humorously cynical bandit" and "a carefree devil with many likable traits." During the Depression, when thousands of people lost their homes to bank foreclosures, Dillinger became a Robin Hood-style hero to many-he took from the rich, even if he didn't give to the poor. "The violence notwithstanding," writes Gorn, "there was something deeplyappealing about [him], his nerves, his coolness, his elan." The author also makes a strong case that Dillinger's favorable publicity galvanized federal agents' efforts to bring him down. A solid study of an outlaw and his image.
From the Publisher
"Is this a good time for another Dillinger book? The author thinks so, and readers will too by the end of the book. Gorn... has produced an excellent account - a fast-paced romp that's hard to put down - of the short life and times of the outlaw John Dillinger... With Johnny Depp playing Dillinger in a summer 2009 movie, this should prove a popular book. Recommended for general readers and crime aficionados; history buffs will appreciate the detailed notes."—Library Journal

"We know our crooks. We don't just know them, we love them: Billie the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, not to mention the fictional ones, most notably Vito and Sonny Corleone.... Long after their deaths they live on in our mythology as what Elliott J. Gorn calls 'part of America's deepest hero myths'... Gorn...tries hard to separate fact from myth, and he makes plausible arguments for why Dillinger captured the popular imagination."—Washington Post

"Gripping tale well told of the man and his times— and why we still care."—American History magazine

"A solid, unromanticized account of the last year in the short life of famed bank robber John Dillinger."—Publishers Weekly

"A solid study of an outlaw and his image."—Kirkus Reviews

"Those with a particular interest in true crime or biographies will find Gorns no-frills approach refreshing."—ForeWord Magazine

"At last: Not only a carefully researched account of the outlaw John Dillinger, but remarkably good insight into the times that made him a 'social bandit' of the Depression period."—William J. Helmer, author of Dillinger: The Untold Story and The Complete Public Enemy Almanac

"Gorn's book is a real treasure. It is perhaps the most concise, accurate, and objective retelling of Dillinger's life and crimes I have yet seen, and I love the incredible analysis along the way of Dillinger's developing legend and the contributing misrepresentations of the contemporary media. Brought full circle at the end, of course, with an examination of Dillinger's remarkable afterlife as a continuing American icon."—Rick Mattix, author of The Complete Public Enemy Almanac and editor of On the Spot Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199839971
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
05/04/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
490,081
File size:
2 MB

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