Monday, February 5, 2007
Florida & Book Review - Public Enemies
I have returned from a wonderful four days in mostly sunny Ft. Myers, Florida. My short vacation was just what I needed to get through the rest of the winter. I played golf (did horrible), went shopping, ate out, and best of all - relaxed.
Now I'm home and wondering why I returned to this subzero degree temperature. Too see more photos of my trip to Florida go to:
While in Florida, I had plenty of time to catch up on my reading. I finished a very good book called Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough. I have always had a fascination regarding this era of our history and this book gave me a chance to learn more. I also read Blink by Malcom Gladwell (review to come later), and started Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner .
Public Enemies is a fascinating book that tells, in detail, the events of the War on Crime waged in the years 1933 and '34. A rich and colorful cast of characters parades through the pages. On the bad guy side, we find Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and Alvin Karpis and the Barker family. On the side of law and order, there was J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI along with local police and other officials. The battle unfolded amid an amazing epidemic of bank robberies, part of what some people saw as a great crime wave. More than anything else, it was probably the Kansas City Massacre -- a bloody incident in June 1933, which left a pile of dead detectives and law enforcement officers -- that touched off the war. This massacre shocked the country -- and the FBI -- into action.
Truth is often not only stranger than fiction but also a lot more interesting. Burrough's research is careful and extraordinarily thorough. He debunks many of the tall tales that have accrued around these almost mythical figures. The famous woman in a red dress who betrayed John Dillinger was actually wearing an orange skirt. Machine Gun Kelly was "inept" and "never a menacing figure." Bonnie and Clyde were totally unlike the characters in the famous movie; they were "lazy drifters who murdered nearly a dozen innocent men." Most striking, perhaps, was the case of Ma Barker, grandmother and head of a family of violent crooks. That was the image. In reality, Ma Barker was a rather stupid old woman who liked to work jigsaw puzzles and had never been mastermind of anything, including crime. When she ended up with a bullet through her head, the FBI had some explaining to do. Hoover then concocted the tale of Ma Barker the master criminal, the "brains" of the gang, an evil genius who died with a machine gun in her hands, "spidery, crafty Ma Barker," whose "withered fingers" controlled the fate of her family of "desperadoes." Not a word of this was true.