Al Capone, The Original Public Enemy No. 1

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The real Al Capone. From Brooklyn kid to Chicago crime boss, a new biography gives the whole story.

This Jan. 19, 1931, file photo shows Chicago mobster Al Capone at a football game. (AP File)
This Jan. 19, 1931, file photo shows Chicago mobster Al Capone at a football game. (AP File)

The gangster Al Capone had a short, famed time on top. The Brooklyn kid who went to Chicago in the heart of Prohibition, built a crime empire there, had hundreds murdered, made a mint, and ended up in Alcatraz. What he wanted, says biographer Deirdre Bair, was the American Dream. What he got was bootlegging, brothels and infamy. And the syphilis that killed him. This hour On Point, Al Capone’s story from the inside, the family side, with biographer Deirdre Bair. — Tom Ashbrook


Deirdre Bair, writer and biographer. Author of the new book, "Al Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend." Also author of “Samuel Beckett,” “Simone de Beauvoir,” “Anais Nin,” “Jung” and “Saul Steinberg.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: IRS Audits Its Collection of Al Capone Guns, Finds It Failed to Shoot Straight — "Even when the Internal Revenue Service has a rare good-news tale to deliver, it can have a hard time shooting straight. The agency, perennially in someone’s crosshairs, had an elaborate plan last month to aim for some positive publicity by evoking one of its proudest moments: the 1931 conviction of Al Capone for tax evasion after other law-enforcement agencies failed to nab the Chicago gang boss on charges such as murder. The IRS plan involved Capone’s gun."

Smithsonian Magazine: Seeking the Humanity of Al Capone --"Al Capone is much more myth than man in the popular imagination. While the notorious gangster of 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago still lingers in our cultural consciousness, this image is one riddled with contradictions: of a mobster and a do-gooder; a man who sprayed silver bullets into the air from his car and helped feed the city’s poor as he orchestrated some of the most cold-blooded murders in Chicago’s history. Although he was only leader of the infamous 'Chicago Outfit' for only six years, Al Capone has remained permanently enshrined as one of America’s most notorious criminals and still commands our attention almost a century later."

AV Club: When Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault, he turned nothing into ratings — "Time keeps changing its damn mind. First Al Capone is a murderous public menace, and then he’s an iconic American figure. A journalist becomes a laughingstock, and then he’s back to being an authoritative voice on television. Our two political parties have what seem to be intractable positions on policy and moral character, and then they gradually switch sides over time. We think we know our own cultural history. We think we have a firm grounding for what we’re certain is true and right. But maybe we’d best not dig too deep, lest we find only a cloud of dust and an empty room."

Read An Excerpt Of "Al Capone" By Deirdre Bair

This program aired on October 27, 2016.


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