Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend

Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend

Bonnie and Clyde may be the most notorious--and celebrated--outlaw couple America has ever known. This is the true story of how they got that way.

Bonnie and Clyde: we've been on a first name basis with them for almost a hundred years. Immortalized in movies, songs, and pop culture references, they are remembered mostly for their storied romance and tragic deaths. But what was life really like for Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the early 1930s? How did two dirt-poor teens from west Texas morph from vicious outlaws to legendary couple? And why?

Award-winning author Karen Blumenthal devoted months to tracing the footsteps of Bonnie and Clyde, unearthing new information and debunking many persistent myths. The result is an impeccably researched, breathtaking nonfiction tale of love, car chases, kidnappings, and murder set against the backdrop of the Great Depression.--from the publisher

256 pages            978-0451471222        Ages 12 and up


“The road gets dimmer and dimmer;

Sometimes you can hardly see;

But it’s fight, man to man

And do all you can,

For they know they can never be free”

-- from “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” by Bonnie Parker


“G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S, yeah G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S

We flying the first class

Up in the sky

Poppin’ champagne

Livin’ my life

In the fast lane

And I won’t change

For the glamorous”

-- Fergie and Ludacris, whose music video for “Glamorous” includes a Bonnie and Clyde-like movie-making scene (2006)


Fifty summers ago, at the local drive-in, while munching popcorn in the backseat of my parent’s Rambler wagon, I watched Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway living and dying on the screen as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. While it didn’t inspire me to become an armed robber and car thief, there was a huge dose of glamour and excitement woven into the award-winning film.


In laying out the real story of the legendary criminal couple, Karen Blumenthal has just robbed me of any remaining illusions that Bonnie and Clyde lived exciting, glamorous lives. Set in the middle of the Great Depression, this fascinating true crime story is overflowing with pain, misery, and, inevitably, no way out for the couple except feet first.


“The only money they had came from robbing small stores and filling stations and an occasional bank. They rarely had much, and cash was hard to hang on to, since living on the run was costly. Food came from cans or takeout sandwiches purchased at roadside cafés. When they could, they would drop their clothes off at laundries to be cleaned and circle back days later to pick them up. Other times, they gave Clyde’s family money to buy them new things to wear. In late 1932, when the U.S. Bureau of Investigation first started to track the couple, federal agents found their trail dizzying.”


Both in the course of telling the couple’s story, and through the back matter, author Karen Blumenthal reveals the challenges involved in gleaning the truth from the legend. As a veteran journalist, Blumenthal is up to the challenge of the story. Her work, both in readability and accuracy,  could provide inspiration for aspiring researchers and writers of all ages.


One contribution to  the criminal couple’s legend is a poem, written by Bonnie Parker in the months preceding her death, titled “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.” The author includes a verse of the poem at the beginning of each chapter, and the entire poem is included in the back matter.


Another of the author’s touches that I particularly appreciate is the inclusion, in sidebar format, of brief biographical information about each person gunned down by the Barrow Gang. This helps to humanize the steadily rising body count.


And the photos included in the book are fantastic! The legend of Bonnie and Clyde, in large part, grew from photographs of the young, good-looking couple, some discovered by lawmen in abandoned hideouts.


But what I’m most thinking about, after the inevitable ambush and bloody, bullet-ridden deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, are their families. Throughout the story, we see much of their immediate families and the connections between each outlaw and their parents.  As a parent, I’m left wondering how, along that nature/nurture continuum, did Clyde grow up to be a robber and murderer? How did Bonnie grow up to be so excited by Clyde, and seem not to have a second thought about joining up with him to live a difficult life and horrible death?


Perhaps, “grow up” is a bit generous. The couple first meet when Clyde’s going on twenty and Bonnie’s just nineteen. Many of us grownups don’t have to think too deeply to recall our own bad behavior at that age. But what in one’s upbringing causes a young adult to become a Clyde?


The author concludes the story with a discussion of the legend, primarily focused around that famous movie I saw when I was an impressionable thirteen year-old. Most importantly, Blumenthal writes about the motivations of writers and movie creators, and how they can shape the historical record. This is another powerful lesson to be taken away from reading this extraordinary, and extraordinarily tragic biography, the vividness of which will both enthrall and repel tween and teen readers.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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