Get Capone by Jonathan Eig, an atmospheric biography of the iconic gangster is subtitled, somewhat misleadingly, The Secret Plot to Get America’s Most Wanted Gangster. The book’s true focus is not the endgame of Capone’s criminal saga, but the glory days of his career in Prohibition Chicago.
Narrator Dick Hill sounds like a Chicago ‘wise guy’ who saw the whole thing unfolding from a corner bar; his flat accent and hearty delivery convey Capone and company’s style and swagger. Eig charts the kingpin’s rise, beginning with his 1923 arrival from Brooklyn, following mentor Johnny Torrid, but he and Hill are in no rush. There are countless stops to smell the coffee or Mama Capone’s cooking. (Eig’s description of the matriarch making braciole, the Italian beef dish, is reason enough to whip some up.) In depicting the characters in Capone’s world, from rival Diamond Jim (James Colosimo) to club doorman, we are likely to be told the shape of one’s facial features, the color of another’s tie.
Hill, like a veteran of the jaded city to a tourist, relates the backdrop of Chicago politics and the post-WWI Roaring Twenties hedonism that Prohibition sought to temper but only stoked. He is at his best when he robustly gives us Capone in the gangster’s words. We are able to perceive, beyond his brute acumen in bootlegging and mob management, Capone’s mastery of the media that made him an international celebrity, the inspiration for countless Hollywood movies, and the archetypal gangster you hate to love. Extolling family values and the pleasure of an innocent glass of beer, he’d tell the press, “I’m just a businessman…All l do is satisfy a public demand.” Hill conveys, by playing it straight, the irony in Capone’s statements praising those honest judges and prosecutors out to get him in contrast to the myriad officials he is able to bribe or threaten.
Federal and local authorities finally succeed in putting Capone away for tax evasion. But by the time of his release, Eig shows us graphically the advance of syphilis that would kill him at age 48 has set in. Despite the book’s historical accuracy, the cumulative effect of the author’s detail and Hill’s enthusiastic rendition are insistent that we, once again, admire the Capone legend. Elly Schull Meeks
Acclaimed journalist and best-selling author Jonathan Eig blows the lid off the Al Capone story. Based on never-before-seen government documents and newly discovered letters written by Al Capone himself, Get Capone presents America's greatest gangster as you’ve never seen him before.
In addition to IRS files, Eig got hold of the personal papers of the U.S. attorney in Chicago who prosecuted Capone. He even found family members who would share stories about their notorious relative. The author, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, brings his uncompromising standards for research and his superb knack for storytelling to one of the most thrilling stories in American history. This eye-opening biography reveals that Capone was the target of one of the most intense criminal investigations in American history - with orders coming directly from the White House. Capone flaunted his criminal success so openly that President Hoover insisted the gangster be stopped. And, despite his many misdeeds, Capone may have been the victim of a rigged trial.
Get Capone also offers a bold new theory to explain the Valentine's Day Massacre and sheds new light on Capone's connection - or lack thereof - to the crime.
©2010 Jonathan Eig (P)2010 Tantor
"Eig presents a multifaceted portrait of a shrewd man who built a criminal empire worth millions." (Publishers Weekly)
I was thoroughly engaged by this fact-based narrative about an individual and an era that are more often discussed in a fictional context. The descriptions of Capone's personality and style brought to mind more modern day gangsters, many of whom must have modeled themselves on him. Even while recognizing Capone for the murderous thug that he was, Eig managed to convey the qualities that made him so slippery and so admirable to so many. In fact, his descripton of the trial, complete with a stacked jury and biased judge, almost made me feel sorry for the guy.
I am about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the book and still waiting to hear about the "secret plot" to capture Capone. What I've heard about instead is a bunch of history and numerous profiles about various gangsters in the 20s and 30s. That's interesting, nonetheless, but not why I got this book. I got this book based upon the title, and I have yet to hear anything about it... just a TON of background information that seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the so-called "secret plot" the book is supposed to be about. The narrator, Dick Hill, is great, by the way.
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