I recently read the book, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde by Jeff Guinn. Mr. Guinn lives in Fort Worth, and I like to support local authors whenever I can. His nonfiction book was published in 2009 and is one of the most definitive and accurate books about the two celebrity criminals. While it’s the first book of his I’ve read, it won’t be the last.
Combining two of my favorite things — local history and true crime — I’ve always been fascinated by Bonnie and Clyde’s story. While neither was born in Dallas, that’s where they met and where their story began. (More specifically, the area was known as “West Dallas,” an unincorporated area until Dallas annexed it in the 1950s.) Their exploits took them across North Texas, among many other places, and they reportedly visited the Top O’ Hill Terrace casino here in Arlington. Both are buried in Dallas, although in different cemeteries. Parts of the 1967 movie were filmed in North Texas as well. Being from around these parts adds to their lore and helps make their story more relatable. I wouldn’t feel the same connection had they been from L.A., Chicago, or New York. People from Texas have a bond that runs deep.
Mr. Guinn’s book goes back to the beginning of their story. He details their lives before they met, their criminal career, becoming celebrities, the final ambush, and the aftermath of their deaths. He also shows what life was like in poverty-stricken West Dallas while comparing it to the thriving city of Dallas. Further, he addresses some of the external factors at play, from the Great Depression to dust storms, and how they fit into the period. He also puts the pair in context with the everyday life and culture of the 1920s-1930s. From local, state, and regional events, one is transported back to a different time. Mr. Guinn dispels myths and goes beyond the headlines — which were often embellished anyway to help sell newspapers — and tells facts from people who were there. (Although often embellished, the stories weren’t entirely fiction either.)
Through exhaustive research and interviews, including family memoirs, Mr. Guinn reconstructs crimes and other events with astonishing details. I felt like I was riding along with the Barrow Gang and part of the action. His book contains more than 70 pages of notes, resources, and bibliographic information. There are also 14 pages of photos. If you want an easy-breezy joyride, watch the movie. But if you want details and an authentic, in-depth saga, read this book.
Like many people, most of my knowledge about Bonnie and Clyde comes from the 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. While entertaining and one of my favorite films, it’s not entirely accurate. As Mr. Guinn’s book shows, the true story of Bonnie and Clyde is even more fascinating than the film. The film’s stars may have made their life seem glamorous — and at times, maybe it was — but the truth was often far different. They were constantly on the run, usually living out of whatever car they had stolen and ever-so-close to arrest or death. It wasn’t a life of luxury and comfort, as you might think, although it didn’t seem entirely dull, either.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed in a hail of gunfire more than 85 years ago — on May 23, 1934. Yet, they’re still immensely seated in pop culture as two of the most infamous criminals in U.S. history. These two larger-than-life, almost mythical, folk heroes caught the imagination and awe — and sometimes disgust — of folks during the 1930s. Even after more than 80 years, their popularity hasn’t dwindled much. For fans of true crime and depression-era criminals, Mr. Guinn’s book doesn’t disappoint. It might be one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it.
Next on my reading list is The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral — And How It Changed the American West; also by Jeff Guinn.
“Tombstone” is one of my favorite movies — and I’ve visited Tombstone, Arizona — so it should be another enjoyable read. Mr. Guinn has several other books that I’d like to read, so I may have found a new favorite author.
Blog post by Jason S. Sullivan, 11-04-21
Read the book — Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde by Jeff Guinn — available through Simon & Schuster publishing.