Public Enemies Book Review

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Public Enemies

People magazine gave it four stars and critics choice. The Washington Post says, “A wild and amazing story, and Burrough tells it with great gusto... It is hard to imagine a more careful, complete and entertaining book on the subject, and on this era.” Newsweek proclaims, “A rollicking yarn whose prose bounces across the page like a getaway car through a wheat field.” All of these nationwide publications have high praise for Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. Public Enemies is a publication of the Penguin Group with a copyright of 2004.

In the authors notes, Bryan Burrough stated, “This is a book I always suspected I would attempt someday.” He proceeds to tell that his interest in this subject began in his childhood. Bryan says the first stories he can remember hearing were the ones spun by his grandfather, who was a police man in Arkansas during the time, about the fugitives Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Bryan’s interest grew even more when he learned that Clyde murdered the great-uncle of one my his childhood friends and also when he watched a documentary about Ma Barker and the Barker gang. Thus began his research in the wave of crime during the 1930s. He talks about his research into the FBI’s War on Crime from 1933-1936 and came across six major criminal factions: John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barker-Karpis Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde. Bryan”s goal in writing this book is to strip away the lies J. Edgar Hoover and his team and tell the real story.

Public Enemies explains the rise and fall of all six of these criminal factions. It also examines how the FBI came to be how we see it today, instead of a bungling group of armatures. We follow J. Edgar Hoover in his struggles of reforming the FBI and keeping his job as director. The story begins in Washington, D.C. Saturday, March 4, 1933, with the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with him telling America, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Seems during the next few years, all Americans did was fear. There was fear of the depression. There was fear of violence and death. There was fear of rogue criminals such as Dillinger, Nelson, Floyd, Barker, Karpis, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde. All there was in America was fear.

The book proceeds to spin the stories of seven major groups. These are the groups: J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, the Dillinger Gang, the Saint Paul Yeggs (Machine Gun Kelly), Pretty Boy Floyd, the Barrow Gang, the Barker-Karpis Gang, and the Baby Face Nelson Gang. Each group had a unique journey with many high and low points that are now etched into history.

In the beginning of the book, the FBI, was almost nonexistent. The big reform to the bureau began when attorney general, Harlan Fiske Stone, appointed John Edgar Hoover as the leader of the bureau on May 10, 1924. Hoover began the big change by changing the forces. He envisioned a force full of young, energetic, white men just like him. One he got a force that he liked, he sent them out into the field. After he reformed the force, Hoover procceded to reform the rest of the bureau, from enforcing a chain of command to standardizing paperwork. All went well until Melvin Purvis began his reign in Chicago.

Purvis had a difficult time controlling his men and he was very unorganized. On many occasions, his force had chances to capture Dillinger, Nelson, Karpis, the Barkers, and Kelly, but all of these criminals somehow eluded them. The major turning point that showed they had power, was when they captured Kelly and sent him to Alcatraz. Then came the Battle of Little Bohemia, another turning point for the FBI. The battle ensued in Manitowish, Wisconsin, at a lodge called Little Bohemia. It was an attempt to catch Dillinger, Nelson, and the rest of the gang, and the result was mass chaos. The shooting began in a confusion and things went even...
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