Public Enemies

Public Enemies
Bryan Burrough

The story of “America’s first crime wave” is certainly an exciting and explosive one, packing a lot of action into a remarkably brief time frame. From 1933 to 1936 such now legendary figures as John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd roamed the American South and Mid-West, robbing banks and kidnapping, and leading directly to the rise to power of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Bryan Burrough has gone through the FBI archives and come up with a detailed account of the who, where, and whens. There is, however, no real attempt at explaining the psychologies of the different players, or much beyond their most basic cultural context. The project was originally envisaged as a television miniseries and was later made into a movie, and I can’t help but think that this played into the presentation here. But then it’s probably also true that none of the public enemies had a very interesting personality anyway. Robbing banks was difficult, dangerous work, often for very little in the way of a pay off. They did it because the banks were there, yes, but also because they weren’t capable of thinking of anything better to do.


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