Review: Tommy: The Gun That Changed America

Tommy the gun that changed AmericaTommy: The Gun that Changed America by Karen Blumenthal. 9781626720848. 2015. Gr. 7-10.

The Tommy gun became the weapon of choice during the law and order era of the 1920’s and 30’s especially for bootleggers and bank robbers. This submachine gun totally changed weapons, even though it was initially designed for military use. I have never fired a gun or rifle myself, so the background of guns and their appropriate names such as “Persuader” or “Annihilator” gave me insight into gun history. Did you know John Dillinger was so sly that he hid his gun inside the case of a violin?

This book is an inside look at gangsters like Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger. It gives a view into their lives, from what drove them to be who they were and what impact the Tommy gun had on their actions. Ma Barker and her gang (her sons, mostly) were present in Minnesota, specifically St. Paul, during the prohibition era. They hid in plain sight under the watchful eyes of the law in many locales in St. Paul and the surrounding area. As part of the history of the city, gangster tours, run by authentic actors, take you on guided bus and walking tours of their “haunts” and share their rich background. You can find more information about this local connection to Prohibition era here and here.  Wikipedia claims that “J. Edgar Hoover described her as ‘the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade.’ Ma Barker has been presented as a monstrous mother in films, songs and literature. However, those who knew her insisted she had no criminal role.” Needless to say, it’s part of the history of the upper Midwest, true or not.

I highly recommend this historical publication that shares our rich past.  The wealth of black and white photographs, charts, and maps bring to life the reality of this era. Students and adults alike will find this book informative and useful for projects or personal enrichment.

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