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The Private World of Public Enemy Number One Revealed

capone book buzz2From his heyday to the present moment, Al Capone—Public Enemy Number One—has gripped popular imagination. This week’s Igloo Book Buzz title, AL CAPONE: His Life, Legacy and Legend by National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair, is being published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday on Tuesday (10/25). This represents the first complete life of the legendary gangster with the cooperation of his family, who provided exclusive access to personal testimony and archival documents. The true flesh-and-blood man behind the legend has long remained a mystery. Unscrupulous newspaper accounts and Capone’s own tall tales perpetuated his mystique, but through dogged research Ms. Bair debunks the most outrageous of these myths. With the help of Capone’s descendants, she discovers his essential humanity, uncovering a complex character that was flawed and sometimes cruel but also capable of nobility.

Deirdre Bair

Deirdre Bair

“Two things surprised me as I wrote about Al Capone,” says Ms. Bair. “The first was how briefly he was on top of the gangster world, only 5-6 years in the 1920s, and yet, how his name is known today all over the world. The second was how deeply private his family had become, not only his own descendants but also those of his siblings. I joke about this but it’s true, that I was responsible for any number of Capone family reunions when I introduced them to each other, because until I came along to write about their family, none of them had any idea that the others even existed.”

Dan Meyer, Associate Editor, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, comments: “When I learned that Deirdre intended to write about Al Capone, I was surprised, to say the least—he’s unusual company for Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Carl Jung, to name just a few of the impressive figures Deirdre has written about before. And while Capone’s cultural power is undeniable, as a subject for biography he presents particular challenges: his own grandstanding for reporters eager to scoop the most salacious account possible, competitive newspapers desperate to print the most lurid details regardless of the facts, and a slim paper trail of primary documents from his life—for obvious reasons, given his line of work. But Deirdre’s unique access to the Capone family provides a window into the life that the press couldn’t capture: how he lived behind closed doors, what motivated him and what troubled him. We all think we know Al Capone, but as Deirdre ably shows, the historical man was far more complex than any Hollywood portrayal.”