As always in case of foreign books let’s start with the title: This is a robbery! A piece of unknown American history. As you can expect it is a book about bank robberies. Marek Wałkuski works as a foreign correspondent for Polish radio Trójka and for years has been sharing stories of various unsuccessful bank robberies, proving time and again that human stupidity is infinite, but also reminding how funny it can be.
This book is in a way a continuation and expansions of this weekly tradition. Few minutes on the radio rarely allow for wider context and this book definitely has space for this. So Wałkuski starts with why he thinks bank robberies are a distinctly American kind of crime, how over the years it evolved from being a ‘prestigious crime’ (if something like this can exist) to becoming one of the most ‘democratic’ (virtually anyone is technically able to rob a bank these times). He then moves on to the history of America dollar (something that I know must be boringly obvious for everyone from US, but for me was new and interesting). The next parts of the book allows us to build the full picture on how a robbery happens, Wałkuski writes about everything, starting from planning, masks, weapons, what happens in the bank, how to escape and what to avoid (if one would like to conduct a successful robbery).
The next two parts of the book are devoted to famous bank robbers and famous bank robberies (funnily enough, famous bank robbers rarely commit famous bank robberies). He writes about Jesse James, George Leonidas Leslie, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Carl Gugasian. Some of those are obvious choices, but some names were new to me. Also when he moves on to famous robberies, pretty much all of them were new to me: America’s First Bank Robbery, Santa Claus Bank Robbery, The Great Brink’s Robbery, United California Bank Robbery, Chase Manhattan Bank Robbery that inspired the Dog Day Afternoon, The Collar Bomb Heist (this one was blood-chilling). The next part of the book deals with the other side of the barricade: safes, locks, police, FBI and all other countermeasures. At the end as a cherry on the cake we have a top 10 of the most funny bank robberies, it’s a real treat we have here a review of human creativity: asking dad to drive you to the bank robbery; a robber signing a check with his own name, just to look like a regular customer; a robber writing a period instead of a comma on his demand note and getting 80USD as a result; one that shot himself in the leg and then when leaving the bank got hit by a minivan; a guy who came late to the robbery, after the bank was closed; another one, who managed to lose 50K out the 100K he stole; a robber who pretended to be his own twin brother and few other entertaining cases.
The tone of the book is light, but it also includes quite a lot of research and places bank robbery in wider historical and sociological context. All in all good entertainment.