Book: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

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Book:

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

Author: Jeff Guinn
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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Forget everything you think you know about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Previous books and films, including the brilliant 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, have emphasized the supposed glamour of America’s most notorious criminal couple, thus contributing to ongoing mythology. The real story is completely different—and far more fascinating.

In Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, bestselling author Jeff Guinn combines exhaustive research with surprising, newly discovered material to tell the real tale of two kids from a filthy Dallas slum who fell in love and then willingly traded their lives for a brief interlude of excitement and, more important, fame. Their timing could not have been better—the Barrow Gang pulled its first heist in 1932 when most Americans, reeling from the Great Depression, were desperate for escapist entertainment. Thanks to newsreels, true crime magazines, and new-fangled wire services that transmitted scandalous photos of Bonnie smoking a cigar to every newspaper in the nation, the Barrow Gang members almost instantly became household names on a par with Charles Lindbergh, Jack Dempsey, and Babe Ruth. In the minds of the public, they were cool, calculating bandits who robbed banks and killed cops with equal impunity.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Clyde and Bonnie were perhaps the most inept crooks ever, and their two-year crime spree was as much a reign of error as it was of terror. Lacking the sophistication to plot robberies of big-city banks, the Barrow Gang preyed mostly on small mom-and-pop groceries and service stations. Even at that, they often came up empty-handed and were reduced to breaking into gum machines for meal money. Both were crippled, Clyde from cutting off two of his toes while in prison and Bonnie from a terrible car crash caused by Clyde’s reckless driving. Constantly on the run from the law, they lived like animals, camping out in their latest stolen car, bathing in creeks, and dining on cans of cold beans and Vienna sausages. Yet theirs was a genuine love story. Their devotion to each other was as real as their overblown reputation as criminal masterminds was not.

Go Down Together has it all—true romance, rebellion against authority, bullets flying, cars crashing, and, in the end, a dramatic death at the hands of a celebrity lawman hired to hunt them down. Thanks in great part to surviving Barrow and Parker family members and collectors of criminal memorabilia who provided Jeff Guinn with access to never-before-published material, we finally have the real story of Bonnie and Clyde and their troubled times, delivered with cinematic sweep and unprecedented insight by a masterful storyteller.

Reviews

Barnes and Noble

Mention “Bonnie and Clyde,” and the first image that springs to mind for most people is the “bullet-ballet” death climax of Arthur Penn’s 1967 film. Fair or not, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have been burned into our cultural consciousness when discussing the infamous bank-robbing duo who met their demise in an ambush near Gibsland, Louisiana, in 1934. The real story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, however, bears little resemblance to the Hollywood fabrication, argues Jeff Guinn in Go Down Together, his riveting dissection of the life and times of the romantic robbers. Though Bonnie and Clyde were never criminal masterminds on the order of John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd—Guinn writes that “their two-year crime spree was as much a reign of error as terror”—to the law-abiding public downtrodden by the Depression, they were “the epitome of scandalous glamour.” The short, scrawny Clyde loved fast cars and was devoted to his family; Bonnie, “a borderline alcoholic,” wrote poetry and yearned for an exciting catalyst to pull her out of the slums of West Dallas, Texas. Guinn’s inside look at their “brief era of roaming banditry” is at times sympathetic to the doomed pair—neither of whom would live to see their 25 birthday. “Their fatalism was tempered by their youth,” he writes. Subtitled The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, the book relies heavily on a pair of unpublished memoirs from Clyde’s mother and sister. Impeccably researched and drawing on interviews with surviving family members and those who came in contact with Bonnie and Clyde, Go Down Together chips through the layers of legend and outright fabrications (both from the prevaricating Clyde and self-aggrandizing lawmen) to get as close to the truth as anyone can. The result is a book pulsing with a narrative rhythm that has all the shock and excitement of a tommy gun’s rat-a-tat-tat. —David Abrams

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