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Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villains [Hardcover]

Lawrence Block

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Book Description

April 20 2004
Drawing on his experience in creating fictional bad guys, crime novelist Lawrence Block surveys the underside of American history through fifty of its most infamous characters. Some, like Jesse James, Bonnie Parker, and Joe Colombo, led a life of crime; others, like John Wilkes Booth and John White Webster, committed one notorious act. Some, like Pretty Boy Floyd or the elusive thief Railroad Bill, have become folk heroes, whether or not the real details of their lives matched the myths they inspired. Others, like Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, will be forever reviled. Block introduces each biography with a writer's eye for character and a good story. He begins the book with a short essay that considers how Americans have defined and regarded villains through history. The biographies, culled from the pages of the American National Biography and illustrated with archival photographs, describe each villain's background, exploits, and eventual fate--often with unexpected details.The convicted killer Nathan Leopold, for example, became the administrator of a leprosy hospital after his parole. The gangster Dutch Schultz was known not only for his bootlegging expertise but also for his cheap, ill-fitting clothes. The stagecoach bandit Black Bart fancied himself a poet (or, as he put it, "PO8"). And when outlaw Bill Doolin finally met his end, only a rusting buggy axle marked his grave. Ideal for readers of true crime, crime fiction, and history, Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves brings a fresh perspective to American's fascination with crime and its perpetrators.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 20 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195169522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195169522
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 14 x 2.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 485 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #852,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This engaging anthology from the American National Biography reference series chronicles America’s obsession with the outlaw and documents the rise and fall of more than 50 of the country’s most infamous rogues. Coverage spans some two centuries of miscreants, from shoemaker Ebenezer Mackintosh, fomenter of the Stamp Act riots, to novelist Gaston Means, German spy and sensationalist detective. Although some infamous wrongdoers, such as Lee Harvey Oswald and Jeffrey Dahmer, are not included, the selection samples most of the great criminal genres. Psychopathic serial killers Ted Bundy and Ed Gein, social bandits Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde, presidential assassins John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guitreau and Leon Czolgosz, and an assortment of Mob statesmen all make appearances. The short, elegantly written biographies, highlighted by color commentary from crime novelist Block, stick mainly to the facts, but include assessments of their subject’s status in popular consciousness. This approach illuminates the contrast between the criminals’ almost uniformly desperate and defective lives and their glamorized apotheoses in the mass media: 19th-century outlaw John Wesley Hardin, celebrated as a populist folk hero in the eponymous Bob Dylan ballad, was, as Block points out, really a "racist, homicidal sociopath." The result is an instructive and entertaining browse for students of true crime and cultural mythmaking alike. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"If anyone knows a bad guy, it should be Lawrence Block. The author of more than 50 novels about thieves and murderers, he has expertly compiled a fascinating book that takes a look into the lives of some really sleazy types." Edmonton Journal

"This engaging anthology from the American National Biography reference series chronicles America's obsession with the outlaw and documents the rise and fall of more than 50 of the country's most infamous rogues....The short, elegantly written biographies, highlighted by colorful commentary from crime novelist Block, stick mainly to the facts, but include assessments of their subjects status in popular consciousness....The result is an instructive and entertaining browse for students of true crime and cultural mythmaking alike."--Publishers Weekly

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves- Lawrence Block July 12 2011
By Marilyn C Garrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I like the overview this book gave you about the 50 odd gangsters, swindlers, killers and thieves. It was quick reading and each story was only a few pages long so I felt easy about putting the book down at any time. However it doesn't delve into the rich fertile ground of why each of these people turned out the way that they did or why the crimes they committed were so horrific. There were numerous quick stories within the stories that gave each person a personality or a suggestion of their characters but it doesn't give you any strong meat to chew on. Pablum for most readers of this genre. A place to begin but not end your research.
Redain this was like skimming across a pond that you know has some shady depths that have gone un-discovered. But then Lawrence Block has written so many thrillers and detective books that perhaps this is a world weary way of introducing you to his other books or even to get you interested in producing one of your own. Use it as a jumping off place to find your villian and then build on it.
1.0 out of 5 stars Not up to Larry Blocks standards Feb. 26 2014
By Jo-Ann Pomilla - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I know he only edited this book but I consider him to be one of the very best writers out there and for his name to be on this book was the ready son I bought it but it was a waste of my time and I stopped reading it and donated it to the library. A huge disappointment.
5.0 out of 5 stars Short history of some gangsters Aug. 10 2012
By MichaelAT - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This title is a short history of some gangsters and killers, i.e. Billy the Kid, John Wilkes Booth, Ted Bundy. A good read.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!! Jan. 7 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amazon rocks!! Fast Shipping-Great Customer Service. Had an issue with a previous order and the staff at Amazon made sure the problem was resolved!!
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