three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Jonathan Eig
user_rating: 
0

A-Get Capone.epsJonathan Eig, a former writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal, is the author of best-selling biographies of Lou Gehrig (Luckiest Man, 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2005) and Jackie Robinson. He lives in Chicago.

The Topic: Although many books have explored the life of Alphonse "Scarface" Capone, Eig offers new insight into the life of America's most infamous crime boss and the feds' repeated attempts to arrest him. Prohibition, which made the sale of alcohol illegal, paved the way for Capone's illicit and violent work in bootlegging, racketeering, drugs, and prostitution. Because he left little evidence of his crime syndicate, he was difficult to catch. In this account, Eig strives to make Capone human, and the gangster--though still portrayed as a ruthless criminal--also comes across as a loyal and personable man who forged solid relationships with his family. In contrast to other historians, Eig exonerates him from the vicious St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929 as well. "I got to know Capone the man," he claims, "not the myth."
Simon & Schuster. 468 pages. $28. ISBN: 9781416580591

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"With all the myths, half-truths and Hollywood gloss dripping from Chicago's most glorified gangster, it's remarkable what Eig has been able to do in his latest book. ... Eig's book excels for its scrupulous reporting and--believe it or not--fresh research that adds depth to the Capone story, including a detailed look inside the prosecution of the mobster, plus a new theory of who was behind the St. Valentine Day's massacre that's intriguing if not entirely persuasive." Steve Warmbir

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Jonathan Eig, a former journalist and author of bestselling books on Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig, paints a masterly portrait of America's all-time favorite crime boss. ... Like most people who rise to the top of their profession, Capone was a driven, complex individual, and Eig explores that complexity without undue bias or overt moralizing." David Holahan

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite the gaudy subtitle, though, fully half the book covers Capone's rise to power and the grip, drenched in blood, with which he maintained it for almost a decade. ... This material [from the IRS], together with Eig's discovery of boxfuls of notes kept by two separate would-be biographers, makes Get Capone both a gore-spattered thriller and a more nuanced upgrade over previous takedowns and hagiographies." James McManus

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"While it's hard to keep track of all the characters, Eig's book is full of fascinating details about the Windy City, as well as the rest of America in the 1920s. His language is as colorful as his material." Elizabeth Bennett

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3 of 5 Stars
"By concentrating on the trial, Eig subordinates a brutal life to a story of tax evasion. That doesn't prevent Get Capone from being an absorbing story of a man made bad." Joseph Losos

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Though Eig unearths some mildly interesting details not to be found in other accounts, anyone who has read much about Capone--and I've probably read more than is good for me--is not going to find much here that he or she already does not know. ... [Eig] is more interested in whitewashing Capone--or romanticizing him as the tough yet tender protagonist of a Hollywood gangster movie--than in facing his appalling record head-on." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

Certainly enough has been written about Capone to make new books on the gangster and the hunt for him seem extraneous, but Eig takes a fresh approach to his subject by relying on new interviews and IRS files on Capone's 1931 prosecution. Critics praised Eig's solid reporting and ability to draw a rich, historical context and tease out Capone's complexity. "He's wiped away the garbage and given us a man," noted the Chicago Sun-Times, "[s]omeone monstrous, in short, but recognizably human." A few reviewers disagreed about Eig's writing style, and not all enjoyed his details on tax evasion or bought his claims about the St. Valentine's Day massacre. If previous books cover the same material, Eig, in the end, manages to put a more human face on Capone--where possible.