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


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

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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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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The men and women at the center of this book are American legends: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barker gang, and "G-Man" J. Edgar Hoover have all become part of our national folklore. Bryan Burrough's Public Enemies strips away Depression-era myths to reveal the even more fascinating truth about America's most spectacular crime wave and the birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Vanity Fair correspondent uses newly released official files and other material to create an action-packed yet analytical narrative about the evolving warfare between lawmen and lawbreakers. Exposing the blunders and narrow misses of the tenderfoot FBI, he describes how Hoover cobbled together the Bureau's lofty public image from less-than-perfect performances. A first-rate read.
Mark Costello
Burrough, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair and the author of Barbarians at the Gate, has written a book that brims with vivid portraiture. His Dillinger is haunting, a figure out of the fiction of Richard Ford, a man of meanness and sorrow and deep rural pessimism … As the story of the F.B.I.'s emergence from the 10-ring circus that was 1934, Public Enemies is excellent true crime with all the strengths and limitations this implies.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Burrough, an award-winning financial journalist and Vanity Fair special correspondent, best known for Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, switches gears to produce the definitive account of the 1930s crime wave that brought notorious criminals like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde to America's front pages. Burrough's fascination with his subject matter stems from a family connection-his paternal grandfather manned a roadblock in Arkansas during the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde-and he successfully translates years of dogged research, which included thorough review of recently disclosed FBI files, into a graceful narrative. This true crime history appropriately balances violent shootouts and schemes for daring prison breaks with a detailed account of how the slew of robberies and headlines helped an ambitious federal bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover transform a small agency into the FBI we know today. While some of the details (e.g., that Dillinger got a traffic ticket) are trivial, this book compellingly brings back to life people and times distorted in the popular imagination by hagiographic bureau memoirs and Hollywood. Burrough's recent New York Times op-ed piece drawing parallels between the bureau's "reinvention" in the 1930s and today's reform efforts to combat the war on terror will help attract readers looking for lessons from history. Agent, Andrew Wylie. 6-city author tour. (July 22) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Burrough (coauthor, Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco) is clearly a gifted writer and a skilled researcher. Yet while many of the vignettes in this portrait of a crime era read like the best fiction, the book suffers from considerable back and forth and ends up a disappointing, disjointed affair. Just when the reader starts turning pages faster as the FBI begins to move in on Baby Face Nelson, Burrough switches to the hunt for John Dillinger. However colorful, the various gang members become harder and harder to distinguish, and the uninitiated will find themselves confused by the seemingly bland recitation of FBI agents complete with birth date, service dates, etc. and the criminals they pursued. With so much material, including recently released FBI files, Burrough could easily have filled twice the pages. In fact, he intends this to be serious history and rails against the Hollywood treatment afforded these murderous criminals, yet he, too, is guilty of sensational writing. Of interest mainly to true fans. Karen Sandlin Silverman, CFAR-Ctr. for Applied Research, Philadelphia Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rollicking, rat-a-tat ride with Clyde Barrow, Ma Barker, and a raft of inept (but a few first-rate) G-men. Though J. Edgar Hoover argued otherwise-and wrote gainsayers out of the official histories-his fledgling FBI was a thoroughly politicized bureaucracy just like any other, torn by rivalries and full of guys who just couldn't handle the work. (And so, it appears from recent testimonials before Congress, it remains.) Hoover's agents were ill-equipped to handle the flood of violent crime that washed over the nation in the first years of FDR's administration-which, Vanity Fair correspondent Burrough notes, "wasn't the beginning of a crime wave, it was the end of one." Where bank robbery had been comparatively rare, those years saw an explosion of attacks across the country, mostly in rural settings; committed by men and women such as Bonnie Parker, John Dillinger, and Machine Gun Kelly, they met with public understanding, if not approbation, for the economy had tanked, and the public blamed bankers for the hardships they now had to endure. Part of Hoover's mission in declaring open warfare on these criminals, writes Burrough, was to battle "the idea of crime, the idea that too many Americans had come to tolerate crime." Given the celebrity that the likes of Ma Barker and Pretty Boy Floyd came to enjoy, Hoover surely had a point, even though he and his boys got it wrong much of the time; Ma Barker, to name one putative public enemy, decried as the murderous, machine-gun-spraying brains of a monstrous ring, "wasn't even a criminal, let alone a mastermind." But plenty of the people the G-men went after were criminals, sometimes even masterminds, and very dangerous, just as likely to gundown passersby as cops and bank dicks; as Burrough writes, Baby Face Nelson in particular lives up to his reputation: "a caricature of a public enemy, a callous, wild-eyed machine-gunner who actually laughed as he sprayed bullets toward women and children."Iconoclastic and fascinating. A genuine treat for true-crime buffs, and for anyone interested in the New Deal era. Agents: Andrew Wylie, Jeffrey Posternak/Wylie Agency
From the Publisher
"Brims with vivid portraiture ... Excellent true crime." —The New York Times Book Review

"An amazingly detailed true-life thriller..." —Entertainment Weekly

"It is hard to imagine a more careful, complete and entrancing book on the subject, and on this era." —The Washington Post

"[A] riveting true-crime tale... Fascinating... The real story, it turns out, is much better than the Hollywood version." —The Wall Street Journal

"Spellbinding... A model of narrative journalism and [a] gripping read." —BusinessWeek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101032749
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/29/2009
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 124,378
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Bryan Burrough
Bryan Burrough is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and the author of three previous books. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he is a three-time winner of the John Hancock Award for excellence in financial journalism. Burrough lives in Summit, New Jersey, with his wife and their two sons.
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Read an Excerpt

Public Enemies

America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934
By Bryan Burrough

The Penguin Press

ISBN: 1-59420-021-1

Chapter One

Torremolinos, Spain August 26, 1979

In a tourist town on the white-sun Spanish coast an old man was passing his last years, an American grandfather with a snowy white crew cut and a glint in his turquoise eyes. At seventy he was still lean and alert, with high-slanting cheekbones, a sharp chin, and those clear-framed eyeglasses that made him look like a minor-league academic. He spent much of his time holed up in his cluttered garage apartment, watching BBC footage of the Iranian hostage crisis on a flickering black-and-white television, surrounded by bottles of Jack Daniel's and pills and memories. If you met him down on the beach, he came across as a gentle soul with a soft laugh. Almost certainly he was the most pleasant murderer you'd ever want to meet.

It was sad, but only a little. He'd had his fun. When he'd first come to Spain ten years before, he still knew how to have a good time. There was that frowsy old divorcée from Chicago he used to see. They would go tooling around the coast in her sports car and chug tequila and down their pills and get into these awful screaming fights.

She was gone now. So were the writers, and the documentary makers, the ones who came to hear about the old days; that crew from Canada was the worst, posing him in front of roadsters and surrounding him with actors in fedoras holding fake Tommy guns. He'd done it for the money and for his ego, which had always been considerable. Now, well, now he drank. Out in the cafés, after a few beers, when the sun began to sink down the coast, he would tell stories. The names he dropped meant little to the Spaniards. The Brits and the odd American thought he was nuts, an old lush mumbling in his beer.

When he said he'd been a gangster, they smiled. Sure you were, pops. When he said he'd been Public Enemy Number One-right after John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and his old protégé Baby Face Nelson-people turned away and rolled their eyes. When he said he and his confederates had single-handedly "created" J. Edgar Hoover and the modern FBI, well, then he would get bitter and people would get up and move to another table. He was obviously unstable. How could you believe anyone who claimed he was the only man in history to have met Charles Manson, Al Capone, and Bonnie and Clyde?

Few in Torremolinos knew it was all true. In those last years at Terminal Island in the sixties he'd taught Manson to play the steel guitar. He'd been at Alcatraz for twenty-one damp winters before that, leaving for Leavenworth a few years before they closed the place in 1963. In fact, he was the longest-serving prisoner in the history of The Rock. He'd known the Birdman and that gasbag Machine Gun Kelly and he'd seen Capone collapse into one of his syphilitic seizures, flopping around on the cafeteria floor like a striped bass on a cutting board.

In his day he'd been famous. Not fifteen-minutes famous but famous-famous, New York Times-page-one-above-the- fold famous. Back before Neil Armstrong, before the Beatles, before American Bandstand, before the war, when Hitler was still a worrisome nut in a bad mustache and FDR was learning to find the White House bathrooms, he was the country's best known yeggman. Folks today, they didn't even know what a yegg was. Dillinger, he liked to say, he was the best of yeggs. Pretty Boy Floyd was a good yegg. Bonnie and Clyde wanted to be.

And today? Today he and all his peers were cartoon characters, caricatures in one bad gangster movie after another. You could see them on the late show doing all sorts of made-up stuff, Warren Beatty as some stammering latent homosexual Clyde Barrow, Faye Dunaway as a beautiful Bonnie Parker (now that was a stretch), Richard Dreyfuss as a chattering asshole Baby Face Nelson (okay, they got that right), Shelley Winters as a machine-gun toting Ma Barker, a young Robert De Niro as one of her sons. To him they were all ridiculous Hollywood fantasies, fictional concoctions in a made-up world.

At that point the old man would just shake his head. As he sat on his couch at night, sipping his Jack Daniel's and popping his pills, what galled him was that it had all been real. It had all happened. Not in some fantasy world, not in the movies, but right there in the middle of the United States, in Chicago, in St. Paul, in Dallas, in Cleveland. And the truth of it, the actual true facts, was all but lost now, forgotten as totally as he was. Dillinger, Floyd, Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Ma Barker: He had known them every one. He was the last one left alive. He had even outlived Hoover himself.


Fucking Hoover.

He leaned over and reached for a bottle of his pills.


Excerpted from Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note xi
Cast of Characters xv
Prologue 1
1 A Prelude to War, Spring 1933 5
2 A Massacre by Persons Unknown, June 8 to June 15, 1933 19
3 The College Boys Take the Field, June 17 to July 22, 1933 51
4 The Baying of the Hounds, July 22 to August 25, 1933 71
5 The Kid Jimmy, August 18 to September 25, 1933 98
6 The Streets of Chicago, October 12 to November 20, 1933 135
7 Ambushes, November 20 to December 31, 1933 162
8 "An Attack on All We Hold Dear," January 2 to January 28, 1934 183
9 A Star Is Born, January 30 to March 2, 1934 206
10 Dillinger and Nelson, March 3 to March 29, 1934 234
11 Crescendo, March 30 to April 10, 1934 267
12 Death in the North Woods, April 10 to April 23, 1934 292
13 "And It's Death for Bonnie and Clyde," April 23 to May 23, 1934 323
14 New Faces, May 24 to June 30, 1934 362
15 The Woman in Orange, July 1 to July 27, 1934 388
16 The Scramble, July 23 to September 12, 1934 417
17 A Field in Ohio and a Highway in Illinois, September 18 to November 27, 1934 446
18 The Last Man Standing, December 3, 1934, to January 20, 1935 484
19 Pas de Deux, January 1935 Until... 515
Epilogue 543
Bibliographical Essay 553
Notes 556
Selected Bibliography 567
Acknowledgments 571
Index 573
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 56 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 56 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    i was not impressed

    difficult for me to read because the author kept bouncing from one "public enemy" to another just to keep the presentation in "date order"...i think that the information would have been much better presented without trying to maintain a time-line of events...he did a lot of research.and included copious footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography, but he lacks the ability to put this research into a good "story"...there are no heros in this book...the criminals are evil and the g-men inept and bumbling...there are better books on this subject

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    great read

    this book is a very good book, it is very informational. when i read it i wanna keep reading it more and more. this book has alot of good action and lots of killing and shoot outs. i would recamend this book to any teenager and adults that likes history in the 1930's

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    Good Read

    Good read for a history buff. Very well researched and very accurate. Some historical aspects were honestly presented as speculative.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2014



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating!  Action, intrigue, drama and suspense-- this book r

    Fascinating!  Action, intrigue, drama and suspense-- this book recounts some really wild years in the world of crime and law enforcement.  All the well-known depression-era outlaws are included in this book: Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, the Bakers, Bonnie and Clyde, and more. Bryan Burrough weaves together their concurrent stories from start to finish, all the way until the last one is dead, captured or otherwise incapacitated.  One warning: the abundance of names (G-men and gangsters alike), places and events can get very confusing.  I read the digital version and made lots of notations and highlights for referencing while reading.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    Great read

    This book has a little bit of everything - history, gangsters, and growth of the FBI. The author clearly loved his subject and it was a pleasure to read the book. I would have liked a little more on the gangsters and a little less on J. Edgar Hoover, but overall, it was a good investment of time.

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  • Posted July 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Wild Ride

    Burrough returns the reader to an era when hard men on both sides of the law neither gave nor asked quarter. Some of the scenes would easily fit into one of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories. You can feel the fear and adrenaline surge as criminals plan and execute a heist, agents and police surround an out of the way house and wait for their well-armed quarry to show, or a wounded man draws his last few breaths before dying.I sometimes wondered about the authenticity of all the dialogue Burrough quotes, although he claims it comes from FBI files. Other than that small caveat, this is a gripping read that fairly presents both sides of the story and shows how J. Edgar hoover used the Depression crime epidemic to build a national police force and establish himself as a indispensable crime fighter.

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  • Posted October 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Good book on the depression crime wave

    For anyone interested in the birth of the FBI and its first public enemies, this is a good book. It's not just about Dillinger, its about many other infamous criminals as well. Anyone interested in law enforcement should read this

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2009

    Very informative!

    I thought it was a great book, it really brought a lot of information about the what was happening during the time of the public enemies and what the country was doing about it. It did have it's slow parts and it has a lot of characters, sometimes it feels like there are just many side notes about people in the book. But it has a lot of great true life stories about the criminals and the officers who pursued them.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    Public Enemies Good Boys, Bad Boys and the women who stuck with them.

    Worth reading. Burrough weaves you through the 30's like a needle through silk. Plus the cover is great.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    Public Enemies

    I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was an accurate and detailed writing. If you like true crime, you will enjoy this book.

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  • Posted August 7, 2009

    An Absolute Gem - Magnificent!

    A fantastic book - I simply couldn't put it down. This is historical writing at its finest. The author's management of timelines was superb, the writing was riveting, the detail, the research, the clarity, all is first-rate. I can't say enough!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2009

    Great Historical Book

    Loved the writing style of Bryan Burrough. The book was very entertaining and informative. I recommand it to anyone who has an interest in outlaws.

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  • Posted July 20, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Fantastic and Thrilling Read

    I honestly can't believe how entertaining it is to see how interwoven the lives of these orginal gangsters overlapped. Having family from that region that can clearly recollect many of these details only adds to the sense of awe I have. I had to buy two copies, one for me and one for my dad. All in all, an excellent book. The movie is awful however, don't waste your time.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The End of an Era Brought Vividly to Life

    This is a gripping and fascinating look at the lives of the last romantic desperadoes of American history and cultural mythology. Bryan Burrough does a fine job of bringing much of the era of outlaws and G-Men alive with keen research and a good narrative focus. In fact, Burrough strikes a perfect balance between scrupulous scholarship and fast-paced storytelling, leaving both history buffs and true crime readers something to enjoy. The best part about this book to me though is that Burrough is able to write about Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson, and others as well as their FBI pursuers without glorifying them. In this book, the criminals are seen for exactly what they are: criminals, and deadly ones too. And the FBI is portrayed as incredibly incompetent up until the death of John Dillinger. After that, the FBI becomes the premier police force that Hoover dreamed of, as Burrough points out. The worst part about this book is that Burrough never fully explains the appeal the outlaws had in mainstream society. Dillinger and others were famous "Robin Hood" figures in the public imagination, but Burrough only gives the lame explanation of it being the Depression and all that. No doubt that was the biggest contributing factor, but it's not a good enough explanation in my mind. Also, Burrough only mentions some of the extra-legal tactics of the FBI that would come to mark the Bureau under Hoover's reign. In fact, he only describes in detail some of these tactics, like kidnapping a suspect's wife and beating another suspect. But he never goes into greater depth about other events like this. Surely, for a police force that would become notorious for these actions, their origins should have been given a little more air time. In short, this is a great book to look too when looking for the true stories of Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, and others who are portrayed in movies, especially the recent Johnny Depp/Michael Mann movie based on this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    I read this book, ejoying it more than any other book I've read dealing with the time period and the formation of the FBI. Many outstanding things about it. The way he told me as a reader which criminals were doing what on given days really brought home the fact that crime occurs all the time, not serially and not like the movies make it look. He was outstanding in putting in facts, questionable facts and outright lies and calling them what they were so you knew what he showing you. Third he showed the foibles and successes of the beginning of the FBI, not the glamorized version Hoover touted. I was honestly saddened when I reached the end of the was that enjoyable a read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2007

    'Public Enemies' True Crime at its best

    Public Enemies is one of the most well written pieces of the 'war on crime' in recent years. Burroughs has written a piece that, while it is a historical non-fiction, the use of the actual documents from the 'war' makes it a book that would be just as enjoyable if it were a fiction. Readers will be instantly and fully immersed into the world of depression-era America. They will be able to see the dusty roads, hear every bullet in the chatter of the gunfights. They will see the discussions between Hoover and his rag-tag group of officers that would eventually become the basis of the modern FBI. Burroughs wonderfully shows the roots of what is now one of the most hard-working groups of law enforcement officials in the country today. The thoroughness and seemingly first hand accounts from the collected documents makes this a story that could be read over and over again as simply a story, or referenced for papers and dissertations due to that research. With this book, Burroughs has distanced himself even more from his reputation as a periodical writer, and more as a serious author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2005

    Not bad.

    Good read, fairly interesting. I wonder what J. Edgar would think.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2005

    Guns and Gangsters take on the FBI

    I have always had a fascination regarding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. This book, Public Enemies¿ gave me a chance to learn more about this era of our history. It was packed with so much information that it is one audio book that I will listen to again and again in order to take in all the facts, names and timeframe described in it. In 1933, there was no FBI so how did this group get its start, and when it was formed, it was not a well oiled group. They did not have guns and when they finally were allowed to, they had to be taught how to use them. They were sloppy on surveillance and allowed the criminals to escape more than once before getting up to speed. What do you know of the gangsters of this era such as John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and the Barker gang? Did you know Ma Barker was never really a part of the gang? Did you know that Bonnie was badly burned? Where did the term G-Man come from? What were the FBI¿s original duties and who was really responsible for all the captures? This audio book reveals all this and more. Public Enemies describes a less than glamorous life that each of these groups led most of the time. Of course, when they were flush with stolen money, life was good but as the FBI became a better working group, they caused them to run from the law and live hand-to-mouth. The audio book also tells about who was willing to harbor them and what their favorite haunts were. Campbell Scott was the reader and he read well. He did not have a lot of voice changes to denote one person from another so I had to pay close attention to what was being read so I knew who was speaking. The introduction by author, Bryan Burrough, set up what the whole book would tell and he wrote well enough to keep me from wanting to stop the tape. If 1933 and the gangster era holds a fascination for you, grab a copy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2004

    It doesn't get better than this!

    My father, Tom McDade, was an FBI agent in the 30's and until I read Bryan Burrough's book I had no idea the life he and his fellow agents led. I now understand why my father and his fellow agents rarely revealed their experiences to family or friends. But now we have 'Public Enemies' to tell us in magnificent detail not only the exploits of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and the rest of the public enimies of the 1930's, but the often fateful experiences of their apprehenders. Often I have read the one-sided accounts from either the pursuers point of view or the pursued but this book covers both sides with fascinating details. My father would have praised this book(he died in 1996 - the last of the Dillinger Squad)as being completely straight-forward and revealing the both strengths and weaknesses of the criminals and the law.

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