Book: Get Capone

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Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster

Author: Jonathan Eig
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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Drawing on thousands of pages of recently discovered government documents, wiretap transcripts, and Al Capone’s handwritten personal letters, New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Eig tells the dramatic story of the rise and fall of the nation’s most notorious criminal in rich new detail.

From the moment he arrived in Chicago in 1920, Capone found himself in a world of limitless opportunity. He was an impetuous, affable young man of average intelligence, ill prepared for fame and fortune, whose most notable characteristic was his scarred left cheek. Yet within a few years, Capone controlled an illegal bootlegging business with annual revenue rivaling that of some of the nation’s largest corporations. Along the way he corrupted the Chicago police force and local courts while becoming one of the world’s first international celebrities.

A furious President Herbert Hoover insisted that Capone be brought to justice because the criminal was making a mockery of federal law. Legend credits Eliot Ness and his “Untouchables” with apprehending Capone. But it was the U.S. attorney in Chicago and little-known agents working on direct orders from the White House who compromised their ethics—and risked their lives—to get their man.

The most infamous crime attributed to Capone was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a crime that Capone insisted he didn’t commit. Using newly discovered FBI records, Eig offers a surprising explanation for the murders.

Get Capone explores every aspect of the man called “Scarface,” paying particular attention to the myths that have for so long surrounded and obscured him. Capone emerges as a worldly, emotionally complex man, doomed as much by his ego as by his vicious criminality. This is the real Al Capone.

Reviews

Barnes and Noble

In Jonathan’s Eig’s brilliantly researched and accessible “life and times” of the most notorious mobster of a notorious era, we learn that Al Capone’s biggest problem wasn’t the Chicago cops or vicious rival crime bosses. These could be bribed away or killed off, both “Scarface” specialties. What ultimately undid the legendary 1920s gangster was his craving to be as famous as Babe Ruth. Capone effectively crafted “a public identity as an overlord of the underworld,” writes Eig. As brazen bootlegging and rampant violence poisoned big cities like Capone’s Chicago, Scarface would describe himself in countless newspaper interviews as a self-made businessman simply offering what customers demanded.

Capone was untouchable in Chicago, running his lucrative criminal syndicate with modern business techniques and resorting to violence when necessary. He paid police and judges for protection, and left rival gangs alone if they didn’t bother him. Yet as the gangland wars inevitably exploded, highlighted by the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (when seven of Capone’s rivals were machine-gunned), the federal government intervened. Capone’s appetite for publicity put a bulls-eye on his back, explains Eig, making him the nation’s “leading symbol of lawlessness.” And as such, he attracted the attention and ire of President Herbert Hoover, who “gave the order to the top officials in every relevant agency: Get Capone.”

Hoover not only supported Prohibition and obsessed about maintaining order, but seemed personally offended by Capone’s public image as a self-made businessman. The President, Eig writes, would begin each morning by asking his cabinet, “Have you got Capone yet?” Capone was eventually put away not for racketeering and murder but for tax evasion and his 1931 conviction would result in the maximum sentence of eleven years, much of it served in Alcatraz. Capone was finished. As Eig observes, his “popular appeal" was crucial to his rise toward the fame he craved—but it “infuriated” those who might have otherwise ignored a single city’s crime boss, and ensured his almost classic fall. —Chuck Leddy

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