Cover image for Public enemies : America's greatest crime wave and the birth of the FBI, 1933-34
Public enemies : America's greatest crime wave and the birth of the FBI, 1933-34
Burrough, Bryan, 1961-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 592 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps, portraits ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
HV6783 .B85 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HV6783 .B85 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV6783 .B85 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV6783 .B85 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Acclaimed Vanity Fair contributor Bryan Burrough brings to life the most spectacular crime wave in American history: the two-year battle between J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Barkers.

In 1933, police jurisdictions ended at state lines, the FBI was in its infancy, the highway system was spreading, fast cars and machine guns were easily available, and a good number of the thirteen million Americans who were out of work blamed the Great Depression on the banks. In short, it was a wonderful time to be a bank robber. On hand to take full advantage was a motley assortment of criminal masterminds, sociopaths, romantics, and cretins, some of whom, with a little help from J. Edgar Hoover, were to become some of the most famous criminals in American history.

Bryan Burrough's grandfather once set up roadblocks in Alma, Arkansas, to capture Bonnie and Clyde. He didn't catch them. Burrough was suckled on stories of the crime wave, and now, after years of work, he succeeds where his grandfather failed, capturing the stories of Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and the rest of the FBI's nemeses, weaving them into a single enthralling account. For more than forty years, the great John Toland's Dillinger Days has stood as the only book that provides the entire big picture of this fabled moment in American history. But an extraordinary amount of new material has come to light during those forty years, a good deal of it unearthed by Burrough in the course of his own research, and Public Enemies reveals the extent to which Toland and others were fed the story the FBI wanted them to tell. The circles in which the "public enemies" moved overlapped in countless fascinating ways, large and small, as Burrough details. The actual connections are one thing; but quite another is the sense of connectedness Hoover created in the American public's mind for his own purposes. Using the tools of an increasingly powerful mass media, Hoover waged an unprecedented propaganda campaign, working the press, creating "America's Most Wanted" list, and marketing the mystique of the heroic "G-men" that successfully obscured an appalling catalog of professional ineptitude. When the FBI gunned down John Dillinger outside a Chicago movie theater in the summer of 1934, Hoover's ascent to unchecked power was largely complete.

Both a hugely satisfying entertainment and a groundbreaking work with powerful echoes in today's news, Public Enemies is the definitive history of America's first War on Crime.

Author Notes

Bryan Burrough was born in 1961 in Temple, Texas. Burrough is a New York Times best-selling author, special correspondent at Vanity Fair, and former Wall Street Journal reporter. Burrough graduated from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism in 1983. While in college, he was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian and interned at the Waco Tribune-Herald and the Wall Street Journal's Dallas Bureau.

Burrough's bestselling book, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the F.B.I., 1933-34, is scheduled to be released as a movie in 2009.

Burrough is a three-time winner of the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Excellence in Financial Journalism. He lives in Summit, New Jersey with his wife and their two sons.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

The title Public Enemies captures the focus of this history of the early 1930s "war on crime." Former journalist and popular writer Burrough graphically recounts the FBI's role in countering the nation's notorious gangsters of the 1930s (John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker gang, Alvin Karpis, George Kelly, and Charles Floyd). Through research in relevant FBI records, contemporary news stories, and interviews, Burrough clarifies and at times rebuts the myths about these colorful gangsters and the FBI's responses. His narrow if detailed and engrossing focus on the gangster-FBI conflict will undoubtedly command the interest of crime buffs. But this very focus, combined with his failure to research Justice Department, Roosevelt administration, and congressional records, and FBI files on prominent journalists Courtney Ryley Cooper, Henry Suydam, and Walter Trohan, reduces the value of this history for criminologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians. Burrough adds little to our understanding of the FBI's emergence as a powerful and revered agency--shaped less by the FBI's planning and violent response to independent gangsters than by the politics of internal security of the late 1930s, WW II, and Cold War eras. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Public libraries and general collections only. A. Theoharis Marquette University

Booklist Review

The literature on Depression-era desperadoes such as John Dillinger is exhaustive but hardly exhausted, as Stanley Hamilton's Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand (2003) and Burroughs' offering indicate. Burroughs imparts his personal fascination with such charismatic criminals to his readers as he strips the mopes of folkloric myth to restore them to their rightful places as bank robbers, kidnappers, carjackers, and cop killers. Burroughs' work also benefits from recently released FBI records. His narrative seamlessly incorporates that information with extant knowledge, a boon to readers ready for a chronicle of the cases that elevated the Bureau of Investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1933 the BI was not yet the country's premier police agency; it became so via its pursuit of gangsters who murdered BI agents in an infamous Kansas City attack. Burroughs' grip on J. Edgar Hoover's subsequent investigations is solid as he slyly dramatizes what kind of people Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, the Karpis-Barker gang, and their confederates really were. A 10-strike for the true-crime fan. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Torremolinos, SpainAugust 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. Hoover. Fucking Hoover. He leaned over and reached for a bottle of his pills. Excerpted from Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Burrough, Bryan Burrough All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

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