Monday, April 4, 2011

Get Capone

Back when I read Daniel Okrent’s book Last Call, I wished it had “less politics and more parties, less Al Smith and more Al Capone.” Though Jonathan Eig’s book Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster didn’t show me the party scene of the 1920s, it certainly satisfied my curiosity about Capone. In the book, Eig follows Capone’s rise and fall as one of the best known (if not the best known) gangsters in the world.

Though Get Capone is filled with facts worthy of a research paper, Eig writes in an engaging and exciting style (that the subject matter of drinking, gambling, and shooting lends to nicely). Even though I knew what happened to Capone in the end (time at Alcatraz for tax evasion), I was still curious about what happened along the way, and the book sure told me. Get Capone didn’t pull me to read like a good novel does, but whenever I did take the time to read a few chapters, I was interested.

What I found most satisfying about Get Capone was that Capone is presented as neither a mostly good man who was wronged, nor an evil man who deserved his fate. Instead, Eig reported Capone’s virtues (like his soup kitchens for the poor) alongside his many faults (the murders, for one). In the end, while reading of his trial for tax evasion, I almost wanted Capone to get off easier—even though I believed he deserved a harsh sentence for the crimes (read murders) related to his bootlegging business. But then I’d realize I was ridiculous, and that the man belonged in jail. (And then I’d flip-flop back… it was an ongoing process).

Additionally, Get Capone gave me a new point of view of two historical figures: Herbert Hoover and Eliot Ness. I’ll admit, most of my opinion of Hoover comes from the musical Annie (and its sarcastic song “I’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover”); not a good source, and one that portrays him in a negative light. However, though Hoover was unable to push America out of the Great Depression, his political life was not really all that bad. Turns out, Hoover was devoted to making government work more efficiently and did not seem to be in it for the power. Though Eig points out that Hoover was probably better suited to be Commerce Secretary (a position he held) than president, Hoover was apparently rather successful in his attempt to increase the government's efficiency. As far as Ness goes, I’d always heard that he was largely responsible for the capture of Capone and I never doubted it. Turns out, much of the credit belongs to George E. Q. Johnson and Frank Wilson. However, when Ness sold his life story to Oscar Fraley, Fraley inflated Ness’s role and his book, The Untouchables, became accepted by many as the true story.

All in all, I recommend Get Capone, and I give it a 4/5. Though it got a bit slow toward the end, it is still worth reading—especially if you’re interested in the subject. My dad was also reading Get Capone and will have a rating for The Shill as well within the next week or so. His rating will be posted on The Daily Shill’s Twitter (@dailyshill).

Yes, The Daily Shill now has a Twitter account. In addition to posting links to new reviews, I’ll also post commentary on the project, mostly consisting of facts from what I’m currently reading.

Watch Jon Stewart’s Interview with Jonathan Eig

Buy the Book

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review. Great book.