Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend

Deirdre Bair. Doubleday/Talese, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-53715-5
National Book Award-winning biographer Bair (Samuel Beckett) interrogates the notion of the “real” Al Capone (1899–1947). Capone’s life has been well documented in countless books, articles, and movies, but most of it has been falsified or exaggerated, especially given Capone’s own marionette-like control of the media and his descendants’ desire to bask in reflected glory. Bair’s goal is to collect all the myths side by side, comparing their shortcomings and information gaps and debunking them as necessary. She follows Capone, in his fedora and lime green suit, from Brooklyn, Chicago, and Miami to a cushy jail cell in Pennsylvania prison, and then to progressively less cushy jail cells in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta and San Francisco’s Alcatraz before his death in 1947 after neurosyphilis left him with the mental faculties of a seven-year-old. She also explores the lives of his friends and family, including the ongoing feud between his elegant, reserved wife, Mae, and his fiercely protective mother and sister, who considered themselves to be in charge of the household. The biography is a meticulously researched and thorough account of the man described by a reporter in 1931 as “gorgeously and typically American,” but it’s best suited for those who are already somewhat familiar with Capone, bootlegging, and the Chicago Outfit. Less informed readers will find themselves bogged down by too much detail and the sorting out of conflicting accounts. Agent: Kristine Dahl, ICM. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/20/2016
Release date: 10/25/2016
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-345-80451-8
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