Sunday, June 21, 2009

Five best: books about criminals

Elliott Gorn, who teaches history and American Civilization at Brown ­University, is the author of Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year That Made America’s Public Enemy ­Number One. For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about criminals.

One book on the list:
Jesse James
by T.J. Stiles
Knopf, 2002

In “Jesse James,” T.J. Stiles dims the glow of the Old West, avoids the biographers’ fetish of piling fact upon useless fact, and gives us both the life and its rich historical context. Turns out the raging guerrilla warfare of the post-Civil War Missouri borderlands was crucial to understanding Jesse James. Stiles moves us away from ­thinking of James as a bandit and ­toward thinking of him as a terrorist—a fitting word to describe Confederate veterans who won by violence and ­subversion what they had lost on the battlefield. James’s ­legend became part of the larger Southern myth of the “lost cause,” a myth whose believers helped undermine Reconstruction, justify rigid racial segregation and introduce the rule of lynch law.
Read about all five books on Gorn's list.

See Theodore Dalrymple's list of favorite books on the criminal mind.

--Marshal Zeringue