Five seconds. Five seconds of machine-gun fire was all it took for the modern FBI to be created. The Kansas City Massacre of 1933, which at the time was the second deadliest murder of law-enforcement officers in American history, left four government officials bloodily murdered in a train station parking lot, sparking a shock wave felt all the way to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s desk in the Oval Office.  The War on Crime had begun.

                Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies is a “fascinating re-creation of a strange and dark moment in American history,” revealing both sides of the War on Crime: the notorious bank robbers and criminal masterminds turned national heroes like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, the Barker Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, and Pretty Boy Floyd, and the mostly incompetent and dysfunctional G-men, led by J. Edgar Hoover, who were charged with tracking down these dangerous outlaws (The Washington Post).

Through years of research, Burrough links together the ‘ins and outs’ of these gangs and tells “a wild and amazing story” about their crime sprees (The Wall Street Journal). Burrough includes everything from John Dillinger’s own enchanting adventures, like the time he escaped from prison with just a wooden gun, to the bullet-riddled deaths of Bonnie and Clyde to Baby Face Nelson’s standoff with FBI agents at the Battle of Barrington. He also examines Hoover’s arrogance and his tendency to manufacture positive publicity about the Bureau and downplay their misdoings for his own reputation.

                A New York Times bestseller and Entertainment Weekly’s Ten Best Books of the Year, Public Enemies is a “rollicking yarn whose prose bounces across the page like a getaway car through a wheat field”(Newsweek).  If you are a crime buff and enjoy stories about Al Capone and first-half 19th century crime, then Public Enemies is the book for you. And, with the movie J. Edgar out in theatres, you’ll be able to tell how well the movie portrays Hoover during the War on Crime in the 1930s.

Book reviews by Phil Young