Dillinger's Wild Ride

The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One


In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds--spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring--provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a salacious mix of sex and violence that proved irresistible.In Dillinger's Wild Ride, Elliott J. Gorn provides a riveting account of the year between 1933 and 1934, when the Dillinger gang pulled over a dozen bank jobs, and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen men--police, FBI agents, gangsters, and civilians--lost their lives in the rampage, and American newspapers breathlessly followed every shooting and jail-break. As Dillinger's wild year unfolded, the tale grew larger and larger in newspapers and newsreels, and even today, Dillinger is the subject of pulp literature, serious poetry and fiction, and films, including a new movie starring Johnny Depp. What is the power of his story? Why has it lingered so long? Who was John Dillinger? Gorn illuminates the significance of Dillinger's tremendous fame and the endurance of his legacy, arguing that he represented an American fascination with primitive freedom against social convention. Dillinger's story has much to tell us about our enduring fascination with outlaws, crime and violence, about the complexity of our transition from rural to urban life, and about the transformation of America during the Great Depression.Dillinger's Wild Ride is a compulsively readable story with an unforgettable protagonist.
  • Oxford University Press; June 2009
  • ISBN 9780199719488
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
  • Title: Dillinger's Wild Ride
  • Author: Elliott J. Gorn
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Is this a good time for another Dillinger book? The author thinks so, and readers will too by the end of the book. Gorn...has produced an excellent account--a fast-paced romp that's hard to put down--of the short life and times of the outlaw John Dillinger....With Johnny Depp playing Dillinger in a summer 2009 movie, this should prove a popular book. Recommended for general readers and crime aficionados; history buffs will appreciate the detailed notes."--Library Journal
"We know our crooks. We don't just know them, we love them: Billie the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, not to mention the fictional ones, most notably Vito and Sonny Corleone....Long after their deaths they live on in our mythology as what Elliott J. Gorn calls 'part of America's deepest hero myths'....Gorn...tries hard to separate fact from myth, and he makes plausible arguments for why Dillinger captured the popular imagination."--Washington Post
"Gripping tale well told of the man and his times--and why we still care."--American History magazine
"A solid, unromanticized account of the last year in the short life of famed bank robber John Dillinger."--Publishers Weekly
"A solid study of an outlaw and his image."--Kirkus Reviews
"Those with a particular interest in true crime or biographies will find Gorns no-frills approach refreshing."--ForeWord Magazine
"At last: Not only a carefully researched account of the outlaw John Dillinger, but remarkably good insight into the times that made him a 'social bandit' of the Depression period."--William J. Helmer, author of Dillinger: The Untold Story and The Complete Public Enemy Almanac
"Gorn's book is a real treasure. It is perhaps the most concise, accurate, and objective retelling of Dillinger's life and crimes I have yet seen, and I love the incredible analysis along the way of Dillinger's developing legend and the contributing misrepresentations of the contemporary media. Brought full circle at the end, of course, with an examination of Dillinger's remarkable afterlife as a continuing American icon."--Rick Mattix, author of The Complete Public Enemy Almanac and editor of On the Spot Journal
"Gripping tale well told of the man and his times-and why we still care."--American History

About The Author

Elliott J. Gorn is Professor of History and American Studies at Brown University. He is the author of The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America and Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, among other books.