Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn

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Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn

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Buy Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A serious look at the lfe and crimes of John Dillinger and his place in the American heart. Cautiously recommended for those not looking for a light read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2009
Publisher: OUP USA
ISBN: 978-0195304831

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John Dillinger was born and brought up in Indiana. His childhood was no better and no worse than most but the early part of his adult life was to be blighted by a spell in prison when he was convicted of an attack on a man in a botched hold-up. Hoping for leniency he pleaded guilty but was sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment, whilst the man with him pleaded not guilty and when convicted received a shorter sentence. It's easy to see where Dillinger's contempt for the law was spawned.

He was released in May 1933 and within a month began his wild ride – just over a year in which he and fellow gang members would commit a series of bank robberies and murders. It ended in July 1934 when he was gunned down by FBI agents outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago. The bare facts might suggest that people would be relieved that his reign of terror was over, but Dillinger had a certain charisma and some people had been rooting for him to escape the clutches of the law as he had done so many times before. Besides, Dillinger had stolen money from the Banks and this was the Great Depression when many thought the Banks had been stealing from them and were now getting their comeuppance.

This isn't a light read and not just because of the subject matter. Elliott Gorn is a university teacher and he approaches the book as an academic rather than a writer of popular books. More than a fifth of the book is notes on the text but as they are separate from the many body of the text it's possible to read the book without constantly being pulled away from the subject matter to read a footnote. On the other hand, the notes are a valuable resource and shouldn't be overlooked.

I've mentally divided the main body of the text into two parts – Dillinger's youth through to his final year and Gorn's analysis and thoughts on the man. The story is interesting and insightful particularly with regard to Dillinger himself and people such as J Edgar Hoover who was fighting for the reputation of what would soon become the FBI. I was less convinced be the portrayal of those who surrounded Dillinger – some of the gang members and the women tended to fade into each other and I sometimes struggled to place a name. The telling of the story is accurate (so far as I can judge) and fact is separated from myth with commendable efficiency. It is, perhaps, a little dry in places and becomes too much of a list, but with John Dillinger's record that's difficult to avoid.

The strength of the book is Gorn's analysis of Dillinger's place in history, the reasons why he appealed to people in quite the way that he did and how he has been remembered in song, books and film. He places him perfectly as he was seen in life and how he is viewed three-quarters of a century later. John Dillinger was famous in his lifetime and has barely sunk from the public consciousness since – whilst his contemporaries Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow only became famous after the release of the iconic 1967 film.

The book is recommended for those wanting a serious look at Dillinger's life but it might be a little dry for those wanting a light read on the back of the Michael Mann film starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another look at the way in which the FBI does its work we can recommend Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family by Joaquin 'Jack' Garcia

Buy Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J Gorn at Amazon.com.

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