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

"The United Press laid out the contradictions in the coverage of John Dillinger:

He is mild mannered and never swears, but is evil-tempered and curses all the time. . . . He is a maniac but quite sane, and a moron but intelligent.

Dillinger has robbed 5, 16, 32, 78 banks in 4, 6, 7, 8 states and killed 2, 3, 11 and 17 men.

If you want to verify this, ask Dillinger. You will find him in Wisconsin, Montana, Arizona, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas or Idaho."

So reads one of many passages summarizing newspaper accounts of the day in Dillinger's Wild Ride by Elliott Gorn. I think this particular passages shows some self-awareness at the time of the way the media (in addition to J. Edgar Hoover and politicians, including President Franklin Roosevelt, seeking more funds and power for law enforcement) created the story that became the notorious John Dillinger in much the same way that dime novels created mythic legends of the Wild West gunfighters in times not so far removed from Dillinger's bank-robbing spree of 1933-34.

Through many quotes from contemporary newspapers and published and unpublished memoirs and interviews with Dillinger acquaintances and family members, Gorn shows he has done his homework on the subject. He also provides analysis and objective reporting of stories that may or may not have been true about Dillinger.

Gorn also makes the connection between the 1930s Great Depression, with 25% unemployment, the overnight loss of life savings with bank closings, etc., and our current situation of financial upheaval and job loss.

Also, though quite different than the story portrayed in the current movie Public Enemies, this book shows that Dillinger's "true" (or as close as we're going to get at this point) story was equally as fascinating. (Oh, by the way, Dillinger did walk through the Chicago Police Department's Dillinger Squad office without being recognized!!)

If you're interested in John Dillinger, the myth and the man, this is the book for you.

My overall personal rating of Dillinger's Wild Ride is a B+.


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