Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villians

Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villians

by Lawrence Block
     
 

Drawing on his experience in creating fictional bad guys, crime novelist Lawrence Block surveys the underside of American history through fifty of its most infamous characters. Some, like Jesse James, Bonnie Parker, and Joe Colombo, led a life of crime; others, like John Wilkes Booth and John White Webster, committed one notorious act. Some, like Pretty Boy Floyd

Overview

Drawing on his experience in creating fictional bad guys, crime novelist Lawrence Block surveys the underside of American history through fifty of its most infamous characters. Some, like Jesse James, Bonnie Parker, and Joe Colombo, led a life of crime; others, like John Wilkes Booth and John White Webster, committed one notorious act. Some, like Pretty Boy Floyd or the elusive thief Railroad Bill, have become folk heroes, whether or not the real details of their lives matched the myths they inspired. Others, like Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, will be forever reviled.
Block introduces each biography with a writer's eye for character and a good story. He begins the book with a short essay that considers how Americans have defined and regarded villains through history.
The biographies, culled from the pages of the American National Biography and illustrated with archival photographs, describe each villain's background, exploits, and eventual fate—often with unexpected details. The convicted killer Nathan Leopold, for example, became the administrator of a leprosy hospital after his parole. The gangster Dutch Schultz was known not only for his bootlegging expertise but also for his cheap, ill-fitting clothes. The stagecoach bandit Black Bart fancied himself a poet (or, as he put it, "PO8"). And when outlaw Bill Doolin finally met his end, only a rusting buggy axle marked his grave.
Ideal for readers of true crime, crime fiction, and history, Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves brings a fresh perspective to American's fascination with crime and its perpetrators.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This engaging anthology from the American National Biography reference series chronicles Americas obsession with the outlaw and documents the rise and fall of more than 50 of the country's most infamous rogues....The short, elegantly written biographies, highlighted by colorful commentary from crime novelist Block, stick mainly to the facts, but include assessments of their subjects status in popular consciousness....The result is an instructive and entertaining browse for students of true crime and cultural mythmaking alike."—Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
Award-winning mystery writer Block edited this biographical collection of 50 American criminals, who run the gamut from the well known, such as Ted Bundy, Al Capone, John Wilkes Booth, and Bonnie and Clyde, to lesser known, such as Thomas Beer and John F. Deitz. (Beer wrote a biography of Stephen Crane, once seen as a major scholarly work but later discovered to have been written with forged source materials; Deitz killed two men in a dispute over a dam on his Wisconsin farm.) All 50 entries originally appeared in the multivolume The American National Biography. Block provides a general introduction, examining how Americans have regarded criminals through history, plus a short introduction for each of the subject selections, which together form a cross section of American criminals running from 19th-century outlaws to Mafia types to modern-day mass murders. While not an essential purchase, this work is an entertaining historical overview of the American criminal world. For public libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg, WV Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195169522
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
05/13/2004
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
8.60(w) x 5.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Block, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master and multiple winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Maltese Falcon awards, has written more than 50 books, including Small Town, Hope to Die, Hit List, and The Burglar in the Rye. He lives in New York City.

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