Review: Go Down Together

Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn

Simon and Schuster, 2010.  Trade paperback, 480 pages.Cover Go Down Together

This most recent account of the Bonnie and Clyde story was originally published in 2009 (as a hardcover). As evidenced by the bibliography/end notes, this is the first book to comprehensibly cover the stories for both Bonnie and Clyde and all of their various cohorts over the course of their two year crime spree. Also, it contains a plethora of primary and secondary sources, including memoirs written by their families and cohorts and the men responsible for their demise. It even takes into account some material Bonnie wrote during their lifetime (turns out she was a prolific, albeit not the greatest, biographical poet).* In fact, the last approximately 120 pages were the bibliography and end notes! That’s how in-depth and comprehensive the research was.

As for the content, everything seemed well-researched and vast amounts of details were provided. The book began with the backgrounds of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow‘s respective families; Bonnie and Clyde’s childhoods; and the economic situation in their home state of Texas, which suffered a widespread crop failure before the Depression hit, causing the economic downfalls to begin there nearly a decade sooner. In fact, this crop failure led directly led to Clyde’s start in crime, as his family has many children and not enough money, and they were living in a West Dallas slum after their farm failed–Clyde saw crime as a way to save his family.  The bulk of the book chronicled the crimes Clyde pulled off before meeting Bonnie; Clyde’s crimes before Bonnie was an active participant; and their combined crime spree (this the least of the three, as it truly was in real life). Three things surprised me: they were quite young-only in their early twenties when they were gunned down; they traveled widely-I knew they hit places in the South and Midwest, but never realized they went to the Southwest, nearly north to Canada, and to the East Coast; and they had a number of people who routinely joined, left, and then rejoined the Barrow Gang as they felt like it (including Clyde’s brother, Buck, and Buck’s wife, Blanche). Parts in this section were also dedicated to the lawmen charged with tracking down and taking in the Barrow Gang, especially the final big push led by ex-Texas ranger, Frank Hamer. The conclusion focused on Bonnie and Clyde’s impact, including how laws were changed, the creation if interstate police cooperation, and how pop culture has portrayed them.

Looking at Bonnie and Clyde in the media, this book points out that the popular phrase “Bonnie and Clyde” never saw use until the 1967 movie of the same name.  The group was always referred to as the “Clyde Barrow Gang” or more simply, the “Barrow Gang.”  It was the movie that directly led to the popular name.  Also, looking at the History Channel’s mini-series that debuted in December, 2013, that program ignored all but the most sensational of the Barrow Gang’s crimes and points to Bonnie as the brains.  The latter claim is not supported in print, then or now.  The book I enjoyed; the miniseries I did not.

I received the copy I reviewed via a Goodreads’ First Reads Giveaway that coincided with the debut of the History Channel Miniseries.  Also, Go Down Together was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Fact Crime in 2010.

Have you read a different book on Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, or one of their cohorts?  Many who survived later wrote about their first hand experiences.  And their are other books that look at the pair without taking their other partners into account.  Or would you like to share your thoughts on other programs featuring the pair?

*To read some of Bonnie’s poems, here’s a link to a site where a few are posted, including her famous “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”

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4 thoughts on “Review: Go Down Together

  1. It kind of boggles the mind how people have become so “enamored” (if that’s the right word) of people like Bonnie and Clyde, and others like them. I thought I saw a different miniseries than the one you mentioned, because I saw it on Lifetime, but now I see it was on Lifetime, History Channel, and A&E. One thing I did learn from that series was that they were very young. I am pleased to see that this book is so well researched and cites many, many sources.

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