Book Review: “Bandits and Bibles”

Bandits and Bibles
Author: Larry E. Sullivan

This is a fascinating read of essays, poems and recollections written by 19th Century American convicts. The title may make one thing that this about some sort of Christian reform movement, but the influence of bibles on the life and subculture of these cons is just one of the many facets exposed by this kaleidoscope of the belly of the beast. Some pieces touch on infamous history like Cole Younger’s recollection of his final ride with the James-Younger gang. Some pieces are telling glimpses of human nature problems faced re-integrating with society, as in “Problems After Release” by D. B. Smith. Generally autobiographical, these memoir excerpts are revealing and telling windows into a dark and remote corner of society from over a century ago. As with Civil War letters, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative and more, 19th Century writing seems imbued with such a gift of literacy and description compared to popular writing of this day when e-mail supplants letters and The Biography Channel replaces biographical books. This collection is another example of such vivid prose. There is also a very entertaining and detailed analysis of period con slang that should not go missed.

Tom “Tearaway” Schulte