Wednesday, January 18, 2017
From his heyday to the present moment, Al Capone—Public Enemy Number One—has gripped popular imagination. Rising from humble Brooklyn roots, Capone went on to become the most infamous gangster in American history. At the height of Prohibition, his multimillion-dollar Chicago bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling operation dominated the organized-crime scene. His competition with rival gangs was brutally violent, a long-running war that crested with the shocking St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Law enforcement and the media elite seemed powerless to stop the growth of his empire. And then the fall: a legal noose tightened by the FBI, a conviction on tax evasion, Alcatraz. After his release he returned to his family in Miami a much diminished man, living quietly until the ravages of his neurosyphilis took their final toll. But the slick mobster persona endures, immortalized in countless novels and movies.
The true flesh-and-blood man behind the legend has long remained a mystery. Unscrupulous newspaper accounts and Capone’s own tall tales perpetuated his mystique, but through dogged research Deirdre Bair debunks the most outrageous of these myths. With the help of Capone’s descendants, she discovers his essential humanity, uncovering a complex character that was flawed and sometimes cruel but also capable of nobility. And while revealing the private Al Capone, a genuine family man as remembered by those who knew him best, Bair relates how his descendants have borne his weighty legacy.
Rigorous and intimate, Al Capone provides new answers to the enduring questions about this fascinating figure, who was equal parts charismatic gangster, devoted patriarch, and calculating monster. -- Nan A. Talese
Since I've been a kid, I've always had a strange attraction to the mob. As a high schooler, I read every book about gangsters that I could get my hands on, and I saw every movie that I was allowed to see. There still is a bit of me that's drawn to stories about larger than life criminals. That probably explains why I wanted to read the new book AL CAPONE: HIS LIFE, LEGACY, AND LEGEND by Deirdre Bair.
AL CAPONE: HIS LIFE, LEGACY, AND LEGEND obviously tells the story of the notorious gangster Al Capone. It begins with his childhood story in Brooklyn and follows him to his financially successful operation in Chicago during Prohibition. It then follows his equally amazing downfall by the FBI on a tax evasion conviction of all things. Things just got worse for Capone when he left prison and returned to Miami with his family as syphilis took over his brain.
I'm pretty sure that I've read at least one book about Al Capone prior to this one because many of the stories were familiar; however, AL CAPONE: HIS LIFE, LEGACY, AND LEGEND also managed to surprise me. This book didn't really rehash all of those larger-than-life actions by Public Enemy Number One (although they are definitely mentioned and often times debunked!) Rather, it tried to provide information to readers about the man behind horrific crimes -- the family man and father that his family remembers. I commend the author for doing something new with Capone's story, and I definitely appreciated this book.
AL CAPONE: HIS LIFE, LEGACY, AND LEGEND was written by a National Book Award-winning biographer, Deirdre Bair, and had the approval of Capone's family. As a result, Ms. Bair had access to a lot of information that no other Capone biographer ever had. I thought that sounded terrific because I wanted new insight into his life. And for the most part, it was interesting. However (and I realize this is entirely my issue!), I was a little disappointed to learn that much of the myth surrounding Capone wasn't true. WHAT???? It seems that journalists in those days liked to break "stories" and sell papers too. Imagine that?
All in all, I found AL CAPONE: HIS LIFE, LEGACY, AND LEGEND to be a very intriguing book about a very interesting character in America's history. Highly recommended to fans of biographies.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.