Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bonnie and Clyde: the Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal

Bonnie and Clyde: the Making of a Legend
Karen Blumenthal
Viking. 2018

Outlaws have fascinated me since high school. Whether it was Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dillinger, Pretty Boyd Floyd, or Bonne & Clyde, learning how they could rob and evade capture made for a rousing read. So I was thrilled when Blumenthal’s latest came across my desk. A top-notch writer of nonfiction, I knew this book was going to be great. And, it was.

“Stories change. Sometimes they change in the retelling. Sometimes they change because the world around us changes. And sometimes they change because other storytellers use them for their own purposes. So it has been with Bonnie and Clyde.”

Using primary and secondary sources, books, newspaper articles, and police interviews, Blumenthal sifts through facts, rumors, and legends to make this narrative nonfiction an exciting read.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow were born in 1910, and came of age during the Great Depression. There was very little money, food, or job opportunities. Clyde and Bonnie met in January, 1930. He is arrested a month later and is sent to prison for burglary and car thieft. Once Clyde is paroled in February, 1932, he and Bonnie meet up and their life of crime begins. Not much was known about the duo until April 1, 1933, when police raid a garage apartment where Bonnie, Clyde and others are staying. Bonnie & Clyde and the others got away, (leaving a constable dead and another lawman dying), but the treasures left behind included a roll of undeveloped film. The images from the camera showed the pair as well-dressed, handsome, and living the high life.  Once the picture went public, ““their whole image was one of glamour,” recalled Jim Wright, a longtime Texas congressman who was a kid living in the region at the time.””  The pair came across as good looking, rich and happy. Even if you didn’t approve of what they were doing, you couldn’t help but envied them just a little bit.  

The book is loaded with black & white photos, many from the film found that April day in 1933, and historical documents. Side bars give more information, particularly more details on the individuals who were killed by the Barrow gang. Each chapter heading states the town/state, date and alternates stanzas from two poems Bonnie wrote, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Story of Suicide Sal.

Back matter includes an author’s note, important dates, source notes, a very detailed bibliography, a note about what happened to other people connected to Bonnie & Clyde, including their family, and an index. Also included in full is the ballad, The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, penned by Bonnie that ran in the Dallas newspaper, the Daily Times Herald the day after their violent death, May, 1934.  

Romanticized or vilified, criticized or admired, Bonne and Clyde remain legendary - no longer for who they were, but for who we want them to be.”

This well-researched tale of love, crime, and murder will captivate readers of nonfiction. 

Click here to visit the FBI's page on Bonnie & Clyde. 

To write this review, the book was borrowed from my local public library.

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