Note: From time to time, this site potentially constituting my personal record for ever after, I may corral a stray item from years past that merits some kind of lasting endorsement. The following book review suggests a good place to start; it may be one of the most popular things I’ve ever written. Goodreads (its second home) reports only six, as of this writing, but it seems like I get an e-mail notice that someone likes the review every other week… At all events, I do feel this was a good review of an excellent book, which I’m happy to recommend for a third time.
Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde
by Jeff Guinn
An absolutely fantastic work, rich in absorbing detail.
I’m far from being an expert on Bonnie & Clyde, so I can’t evaluate this against any other works on the pair. But it certainly seems like Guinn did a lot of research, and used it to very good effect. Unsurprisingly, there’s no Hollywood glamour in the story; yet for a tale of two largely inept, ineffective small-time criminals, it’s a remarkably dramatic and even moving story.
The element of inevitable doom in Bonnie & Clyde’s tale probably contributes a lot to this, and while Guinn makes it a very real presence, he hardly had to invent it; throughout much of their brief criminal careers, B&C knew there was only one possible ending to their story, and were often completely frank and casual about it.
Perhaps the most effective and surprising ramification of this, though, is how Guinn convincingly calls into question just how much Barrow and Parker ever really had a better alternative. The story of their dead-end world in Dust-Bowl Texas, and particularly of the Barrows’ utterly dispiriting poverty, comes across as just unremittingly bleak. Unless the prospects for a young person in Depression-era Dallas slums were significantly brighter than Guinn’s account suggests, one has difficulty seeing any reason Bonnie & Clyde would have particularly preferred lives of impoverished drudgery to brief careers as famous criminals, even allowing for the deglamorized reality of the latter.
In all honesty, though written as a biography of two celebrated bandits, Go Down Together is one of the most effective works of social criticism I’ve read in a long while.