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Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934

Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934
Author: David E. Ruth
ISBN 13: 9780226732183
ISBN 10: 226732185
Edition: 1
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 1996-04-15
Format: Paperback
Pages: 200
List Price: $29.00

In this richly detailed account of mass media images, David Ruth looks at Al Capone and other "invented" gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s. The subject of innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, scores of novels, and hundreds of Hollywood movies, the gangster was a compelling figure for Americans preoccupied with crime and the social turmoil it symbolized. Ruth shows that the media gangster was less a reflection of reality than a projection created from Americans' values, concerns, and ideas about what would sell.

We see efficient criminal executives demonstrating the multifarious uses of organization; dapper, big-spending gangsters highlighting the promises and perils of the emerging consumer society; and gunmen and molls guiding an uncertain public through the shifting terrain of modern gender roles. In this fascinating study, Ruth reveals how the public enemy provides a far-ranging critique of modern culture.


Explores not the facts of crime in the US after the First World War but popular belief that crime was a defining element of American society, and the construction by mass media of the gangster as the embodiment of that crime. Looks as why the figure was compelling enough to dominate newspaper and magazine articles, novels, plays, and over 100 Hollywood movies. Paper edition (unseen), $15.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)