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In Education of a Felon, the reigning champion of prison novelists finally tells his own story. The son of an alcoholic stagehand father and a Busby Berkeley chorus girl, Bunker was--at seventeen--the youngest inmate ever in San Quentin. His hard-won experiences on L.A.'s meanest streets and in and out of prison gave him the material to write some of the grittiest and most In Education of a Felon, the reigning champion of prison novelists finally tells his own story. The son of an alcoholic stagehand father and a Busby Berkeley chorus girl, Bunker was--at seventeen--the youngest inmate ever in San Quentin. His hard-won experiences on L.A.'s meanest streets and in and out of prison gave him the material to write some of the grittiest and most affecting novels of our time. From smoking a joint in the gas chamber to leaving fingerprints on a knife connected to a serial kiler, from Hollywood's steamy undersde to swimming in the Neptune pool at San Simeon, Bunker delivers a memoir as colorful as any of his novels and as compelling as the life he's lead.


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In Education of a Felon, the reigning champion of prison novelists finally tells his own story. The son of an alcoholic stagehand father and a Busby Berkeley chorus girl, Bunker was--at seventeen--the youngest inmate ever in San Quentin. His hard-won experiences on L.A.'s meanest streets and in and out of prison gave him the material to write some of the grittiest and most In Education of a Felon, the reigning champion of prison novelists finally tells his own story. The son of an alcoholic stagehand father and a Busby Berkeley chorus girl, Bunker was--at seventeen--the youngest inmate ever in San Quentin. His hard-won experiences on L.A.'s meanest streets and in and out of prison gave him the material to write some of the grittiest and most affecting novels of our time. From smoking a joint in the gas chamber to leaving fingerprints on a knife connected to a serial kiler, from Hollywood's steamy undersde to swimming in the Neptune pool at San Simeon, Bunker delivers a memoir as colorful as any of his novels and as compelling as the life he's lead.

30 review for Education of a Felon

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    The sergeant held up the three driver's licenses in three different names from three different states. "What's your name?" "I'm John McCone, CIA. I tried to warn them-" "Warn them?" "In '36, I told them the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor." "What the fuck have you been taking?" "Will you get me to Washington?" When they booked me, I signed as Marty Cagle, Lt., USNR, and gave my birth year as 1905... ...In the morning, a uniformed officer unlocked my cell gate. A detective waited to interrogate The sergeant held up the three driver's licenses in three different names from three different states. "What's your name?" "I'm John McCone, CIA. I tried to warn them-" "Warn them?" "In '36, I told them the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor." "What the fuck have you been taking?" "Will you get me to Washington?" When they booked me, I signed as Marty Cagle, Lt., USNR, and gave my birth year as 1905... ...In the morning, a uniformed officer unlocked my cell gate. A detective waited to interrogate me in the standard windowless room with a table and three hard-backed chairs. He looked at me with cold, hostile eyes. "Sit down, Bunker." They knew my name already. Damn! They had pulled out all the stops, or so I thought for a moment. "He's dead", I said. "I am number five. Who are you?" Prison is a foreign country- foreign to me, at least. It has its own culture, traditions, rules of survival and language. When traveling abroad, most of us try to do as the Romans do, to a degree, with the understanding that you can never actually be a Roman, nor would most of us particularly wish to be. In a foreign country, you can recognize others from your own country, often before they open their mouths; conversation and affinity come easily, easier than they might have back home, if for no other reason than that it's pleasurable to talk for a while in your native tongue. It's not quite true that Edward Bunker was born in prison- he was born in Hollywood in fact, on New Year's Eve in 1933- but it became, essentially, his native country. His father was an alcoholic stagehand, as the synopsis on the back of this book tells us, and his mother was a dancer. Surely Bunker's father was not a perfect man- in addition to drinking too much, he shared the common prejudices of his time ("Dad disliked 'niggers', 'spics', 'wops', and the English with 'their goddamn king'") but Bunker paints a few vivid scenes that show there's more to a life than a pithy phrase on the back of a book:"...Sometimes I think about starting the car with the garage door closed." I knew what that meant [even at nine], and from somewhere within me came a Catholic canon. "If you do that, you'll go to hell, won't you, pop?" "No, I won't. There's no hell...and no heaven, either. Life is here. Reward is here. Pain is here. I don't know very much...but that much I know for sure."When his parents got divorced a few years after he was born, they sent five-year-old Ed to a boarding school, from which he promptly ran away. Running away from boarding school led to military school, running away from military school led to juvenile hall, and Bunker eventually became the youngest inmate to ever be imprisoned at San Quentin, at the age of 17. When a typically law-abiding American male imagines what it would be like to go to prison, one fear in particular rises above all the others- and indeed, as soon as Ed arrives in County Jail as a teenager, an older inmate slips him a note that implies that he's going to rape him in the shower. "I half-hoped that my cell partners would help me, even though I knew it unlikely. They had just met me and had their own very serious troubles. Their sympathy ended with sympathy, not intervention." Ed decides to strike first- he brings a razorblade to the shower with him and sends the guy to the hospital. Is this why, later on in San Quentin, it seems as though no one ever really bothers him? That's not totally clear, but with the caveat that Bunker seems to have established a reputation of being able to handle himself and of being a little unpredictable, I was surprised that life in San Quentin in the 50s just doesn't really sound, well, all that bad. Bunker is allowed to spend most of the day outside his cell, the library lets him take out five books at a time, there were (voluntary) boxing tournaments and use of a gym, and the racial animus of the 60s was still latent. It's also in San Quentin that Bunker reads the first chapter of fellow convict Caryl Chessman's Cell 2455, Death Row, published in a literary journal, and gets the idea that even a convict can be a writer- that maybe he has access to a corner of human experience that most people, even those with more talent or intelligence, don't.I had knowledge about life that many people never learn and never have need to learn. But I knew I had gaping flaws, too, emotions and impulses without the internal controls that we learn from parents and society...if anything is true in a young criminal's mind, it is the need for immediate satisfaction. Truly the place is here and the time is now. Delayed gratification is contrary to his nature.Paroled at the age of 22, Bunker finds work through a lawyer with Louise Fazenda, a silent-film actress who takes him to meet Aldous Huxley, Ayn Rand, and to the Hearst Castle (which seems to have been one of those impenetrable fantasy worlds- like Neverland, Mar-a-Lago, or O.J. Simpson's Rockingham- that rich psychopaths tend to make for themselves), where Bunker swims in the Neptune pool on the night of Hearst's death. But like anyone living in a foreign country, Bunker comes to realize that the quotidian details of life are more complicated for him than for the natives. Finding legitimate work proves difficult, at least once employers get wind of his history, but it's more than that: when he recognizes others from his own country, the people he feels most comfortable with, they still tend to be safecrackers, burglars, confidence men, pimps, prostitutes, dealers and addicts. "Thinking back", he writes, "I cannot recall a moment when I decided to return to crime as a way of life. I was simply trying to get by and live well in the world that I found." Still, he's too honest of a writer to claim that it was all about necessity. After a (kind of insane) scheme to trick Hollywood pimps into paying him protection money falls through, he finds himself chased through an underground parking garage by the pimps' Mob-connected Vegas muscle:Of course I was frightened at the moment. Brass knuckles are terrible weapons. They easily crush facial bones. But once I was out the window and down the street, the fright gave way to a weird excitement. It wasn't anger. It was an exhilaration. This was my best game. It was a level of excitement that my metabolism thrived on. My whole life had conditioned me to such situations.As Bunker puts it, "[Prison's] values would become my values, namely that might makes right." One of my favorite chapters in the book made this particularly clear to me. Immediately following his transfer to a low-security institution while faking insanity, Bunker hops the institution's fence and becomes a fugitive. He takes Route 66 east through Arizona and New Mexico, stays in Oklahoma City for a few weeks with an LA musician, freezes in his unheated car while driving across the Great Plains in February, and ends up circling around places like Joplin, MO, Paducha, KY, South Bend, IN (even the mildly attentive reader will no doubt wonder if Bunker could possibly be Mayor Pete's biological father, but unfortunately the dates don't work), and Toledo, OH. After taunting his parole officer with a postcard from Paducha ("Glad you're not here. Ha ha ha..."), a hotel clerk in Joplin steals money from his room, just about all of his money in fact, and he can't go to the police for obvious reasons. Not having had Bunker's life experience, my reaction in such a situation would probably be to call a few close friends, hoping one of them could help. What Bunker decides to do, on the other hand, never would've occurred to me- not necessarily because I'm morally opposed, but because I'm habituated to generally obeying the law- a question of metabolism, you might say. He downs three shots of Wild Turkey to 'fortify' himself, then walks into the nearest bank, shows the pistol in his belt to the teller, and walks out with $7,000. "This robbery slipped into the annals of unsolved crimes", he notes, probably with some satisfaction, "and the statute of limitations expired decades ago."Wherever I was, Joplin, Chicago, Rome...or Timbuktu, I could always get some money if I had a pistol. I didn't even need to speak the language. The pistol muzzle was in universal language: Gimme da money!Perhaps the best chapter in the book, which almost reads like a novella in itself, is the last one. By the time Bunker ends up back in San Quentin in the 60s, things inside have started to change dramatically:From the early forties through the fifties, San Quentin went from being one of America's most notoriously brutal prisons to being a leader in progressive penology and rehabilitation. Like other prisons, it was not ready for what happened when the revolution came to America. As drugs flooded the cities, likewise they flooded San Quentin. The racial turmoil of the streets was magnified in San Quentin's sardine can world...in 1963 when John Kennedy was assassinated, it was lunchtime in the Big Yard. Everyone fell into a stunned silence. Eyes that hadn't cried since early childhood filled with tears, including those of the toughest black convicts. Five years later, when Bobby Kennedy was shot in the head, the response was different. Black convicts called out, "Right on!"... ...For several years before the guards became combatants there had been a race war limited to Black Muslims and the self-proclaimed American Nazis. The Nazis had one copy of Mein Kampf that they passed around as if it were a Holy Bible. No one could really understand it. How could they? It borders on gibberish. Except for one or two, these erstwhile Nazis were skinny, pimple-faced kids who were afraid that someone would fuck them, but that fear didn't mean that several together would hesitate in stabbing someone.This was the beginning of the Aryan Brotherhood, and Bunker describes the escalating race war in harrowing detail (an article he wrote about it would eventually be published in Harper's, in part leading to his parole):Most convicts lacked a sanctuary where they could relax. Even the cell offered no safety. An empty jar could be filled with gas and smashed against the bars, followed by a book of flaming matches. It happened more than once. Going to eat...required passing blind spots on the stair landings where an ambush could be laid. A group of whites or blacks could be waiting for someone of the opposite color, or maybe they were simply waiting for another friend- but someone of the opposite color wouldn't know why they were there and had to virtually brush against them while going by. A white was jumped that way, but he managed to get away. Ten minutes later in another cell house, a white lunged at a black but exposed his knife before he was in range. The black saw it and bolted down the tier.Throughout the book, Bunker is a thoughtful and entertaining companion. There are interesting characters from every walk of life and some truly wild anecdotes. You can't help being on his side- I couldn't, anyway- and it helps of course that he is not a man completely without recognizable morals (he is not a murderer for example, nor a rapist, nor a pedophile). There's a nice little epilogue here in which he describes being stopped on a street in Paris by a fan who's read all of his novels and who recognizes him from his minor role as Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs, and this late-in-life success seems deserved. Yet one of the broader ideas I take away from the book is that the distinction between a civilized, law-abiding life and a criminal life may often come down to habits and values that, by the time we're old enough to judge them, are already ingrained- and that holds true even when the person in question isn't someone like Bunker, someone self-aware and erudite enough to (eventually) evaluate his own circumstances and how they shaped him. Here in the US, where we have the highest prison population rate of any country in the world, it seems fair to say that a good percentage of people, and especially people of color, are born every year into that other country, the one that Bunker describes so well. Such a thought can make it a bit difficult to maintain the whole concept of personal responsibility that's so sacrosanct here, as the determining factor in the course of a life. Having read a few other southern California writers recently, I found myself comparing Bunker and Bukowski. True, their sensibilities and temperaments were different; Bunker was a genuine criminal in a way that Bukowski wasn't; Bunker describes a broader range of experience and emotion than Bukowski, in my view; nor were they really the same age- Bukowski was born in '20, so he was about 13 years older than Bunker. Furthermore, I suppose it's nothing more than coincidence that Mickey Rourke acted in both the Bukowski-written Barfly and in The Animal Factory, adapted from one of Bunker's novels. On the other hand, both grew up subjected to physical violence (Bunker in various state institutions, Bukowski- if Ham on Rye is true, at least- with his father) and were therefore unable to form their perspectives on life without accounting for it; both wrote autobiographical works about men at the fringes of society; both lived in a sense isolated from the world and the broader narrative of history (prison and addiction strike me as similar in this way); and both worked at their writing for decades without any success or recognition, only achieving a little bit later in life (Bunker's final tally was six unpublished novels, excluding drafts that were occasionally lost while on the run from law enforcement). Maybe it's telling that a modicum of success came Bunker's way only well after he'd given up on the idea of conventional success...but simply kept writing anyway, without any expectation of reward, just like Bukowski did.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

    So far, so good. I love these obscure biographies. I'd rather read about this guy than, say, Bill friggin' Clinton...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chilly SavageMelon

    When I was in Italy last spring, I kept seeing this novel everywhere. Hostel managers were reading it, it was displayed in the front glass in Sienese bookstores. ‘Who’s this mob guy with a novel’, I thought to myself, ‘looks good…’ But imagine my suprise when I found out that not only was the writer an American, he’d also done a cameo as Mr. Blue in ‘Reservior Dogs’! I had to get a copy, which upon returning to the States I did. Fuck Tarantino, but this was the sort of writer I pride myself on b When I was in Italy last spring, I kept seeing this novel everywhere. Hostel managers were reading it, it was displayed in the front glass in Sienese bookstores. ‘Who’s this mob guy with a novel’, I thought to myself, ‘looks good…’ But imagine my suprise when I found out that not only was the writer an American, he’d also done a cameo as Mr. Blue in ‘Reservior Dogs’! I had to get a copy, which upon returning to the States I did. Fuck Tarantino, but this was the sort of writer I pride myself on being familar with. And as far as criminal autobiographies go, it’s a rewarding read. Bunker is intelligent, self-educated, knowledgeable about the criminal underworld in which he grew up. Despite time he served in the harshest California prisons: San Quinten, Soledad, Folsom, he had some good breaks along the way as well, and was befriended by a silent era film star Mrs. Hal Wallis, worked for her briefly in his teens. It is this era: when Bunker was 17 in 1950, out of various reform schools, already having done one stint of hard time, but before another huge block of incarceration, that was the most interesting. A knack for trouble, criminal aquaitences he’d made while locked up or roaming east LA, served as a fraternity that would aligned him with pimps, prostitutes and junkies, check forgers and bank robbers, safe crackers and con-men; as well as the aforementioned benefactor who had him employed by LA society types for as long as he could stay out of trouble, which was never long. There are detailed accounts the horrors of life on the inside as well; how to attack first, savagely, before one can be victimized, the moral code of convicts, and stories of ghastly race wars that went on in prisons of the late 60’s and 70’s. Through it all, Bunker wrote, finishing four novels before his first one was ever published, decades after it was completed. One tale that especially pleased me was his descriptions of an Art Pepper gig he was at, waiting to meet a connection, before things were destined to go wrong. As I understand, Pepper did time in some of these same institutions, but apparently they didn’t know one another while incarcerated. And unlike another convict writer who attained fame upon his release, Jack Henry Abbott, who stabbed a waiter in a NYC restaurant, much to the dismay of his patron, Norman Mailer, Bunker was able to find ease with modest literary fame in his old age, and has remained a free man for the past two decades. He now has a wife and son, fights health problems with trademark stamina, and continues to enjoy small film roles and to see his works grow. Animal Factory was made into a film in ‘99, and Dustin Hoffman bought the rights to another of his novels. At times the tone can be egomaniacal, and he assumes everyone is as interested in notorious LA thugs of the 50’s as he or James Ellroy might be, but overall, this work must be described as strangely inspiring. He did it HIS way-

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca McNutt

    Emotional, engaging and totally unforgettable, Education of a Felon is a detailed portrait of the life of an inmate and what led up to his choices.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    There are sentences and then there are sentences. Edward Bunker fought long and hard both to stay alive in America's toughest prisons (San Quentin, Folsom) and also to finally get published. After several years behind bars and six attempts at writing a break-out novel, Bunker finally found literary success with his 1972 book "No Beast So Fierce." Had he not finally been published Bunker would likely have ended up spending the rest of his life behind bars. Education of a Felon is a memoire that ta There are sentences and then there are sentences. Edward Bunker fought long and hard both to stay alive in America's toughest prisons (San Quentin, Folsom) and also to finally get published. After several years behind bars and six attempts at writing a break-out novel, Bunker finally found literary success with his 1972 book "No Beast So Fierce." Had he not finally been published Bunker would likely have ended up spending the rest of his life behind bars. Education of a Felon is a memoire that takes the reader through the underbelly of 1950's-60's Los Angeles, both on the streets and in its penal institutions. At seventeen years old Bunker became the youngest inmate to enter San Quentin State Prison (though records indicate he wasn't the shortest.) The two things Bunker seemed to enjoy most in life were crime and writing. I've always wanted to be a career criminal myself but unfortunately for me I had parents who loved me and instilled a deep sense of shame in me. Had I been abandoned at a young age such as Bunker had been I would probably have been up to my eyeballs in whores, blow and bank robberies too. Besides the escapes and the musings about writing the other really interesting parts of the book deal with Bunker's having met and in the case of Billy Cook assaulted, some of California's most prominent inmates of the day. Bunker was housed in solitary confinement next to notorious jail house lawyer and condemned killer Caryl Chessman. While Bunker was in Folsom later on in his career he was in close proximity to Soledad Brother George Jackson, though friendly relations couldn't be established due to a bit of a race war that was transpiring. Sure it's a story of redemption, but mainly it's a cautionary tale about what happens when the system habitually abuses children. Considering the assaults on his person by overzealous guards even while a child, the abandonment by parents and mentors alike it is no small wonder that Bunker didn't kick start another holocaust. Thank god for the printed word and its power to save souls.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bob Schnell

    Edward Bunker was not the sort of person you wanted as an enemy. That is, not before he became a published author and cause célèbre. Before that time, he was a thrill-seeking, nihilistic tough guy who you didn't want to cross. He spent most of his first 30 years of life in reform schools and prisons, surviving and learning to be a better felon along the way. However, he always had an ethical side that kept him from being a complete sociopath and that is what probably saved him. Bunker's story is Edward Bunker was not the sort of person you wanted as an enemy. That is, not before he became a published author and cause célèbre. Before that time, he was a thrill-seeking, nihilistic tough guy who you didn't want to cross. He spent most of his first 30 years of life in reform schools and prisons, surviving and learning to be a better felon along the way. However, he always had an ethical side that kept him from being a complete sociopath and that is what probably saved him. Bunker's story is gripping, gritty and cinema worthy. The Dustin Hoffman film "Straight Time" is loosely based on his first parole that eventually led to him becoming a fugitive. As much as you want to hate him for his crimes, you wind up admiring his personal code and will to survive. You also feel kind of bad that the only part of the 1960's he really got to experience was the race wars behind the walls of San Quentin. The rest of the time he spent reading and trying to be a writer. There's even a bit of Old Hollywood glamour when he is sponsored by Louise Wallis , wife of producer Hal Wallis, and gets to chauffeur her to San Simeon and other fading palaces. I didn't want to put it down.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marti

    Although it is not intentional on my part, it seems like at least 4 out of the last 5 books I have read center around Los Angeles. And with the exception of the tale of the paparazzi, the action takes place in the same run down areas during different time periods (and this doesn't even include the books on Patty Hearst and Manson). Bunker's tale takes place mostly in various prisons and reform schools. However, in the 1950s, when he was not behind bars, he frequented seedy nightclubs in West Hol Although it is not intentional on my part, it seems like at least 4 out of the last 5 books I have read center around Los Angeles. And with the exception of the tale of the paparazzi, the action takes place in the same run down areas during different time periods (and this doesn't even include the books on Patty Hearst and Manson). Bunker's tale takes place mostly in various prisons and reform schools. However, in the 1950s, when he was not behind bars, he frequented seedy nightclubs in West Hollywood... which do not seem all that different from the "punk" hangouts of the 1970s (except the clothes were a lot more stylish). Like Malcolm X, Edward Bunker is remarkable in that he got almost a Harvard Education behind the walls of San Quentin. That's because prisoners like Caryl Chessman steered him toward better literature. He certainly seems more well read than most college graduates in this day and age. After a rough start (flipping a correction officer's desk and other aggressive acts), he managed to put his temper aside and get paroled when he was still in his early 20's. It did not last more than a few years as he did some really dumb things that landed him back in prison, despite the patronage of an aging silent film star who lavished him with gifts, favors, a rent free apartment, and a one-time-only invitation to San Simeon (which, safe to say, was not where many newly-released ex-cons ended up). Although many people would find Bunker to be despicable, most of what he did does not seem all that bad by criminal standards (he never stabbed anyone except in prison; and then only in self defense). However, as a parole violator, he was given an automatic ticket back maximum security. I found his analysis of prison politics and inmate/correction officer culture to be insightful and entertaining (Folsom was apparently a stark contrast to San Quentin). Recommended for fans of true crime, this could very easily be The Citizen Kane of "prison lit."

  8. 5 out of 5

    C.M. Crockford

    A badass memoir that until the very end mostly skips past any of the expectations for memoir (tearful redemption, absolute rock bottom, wistful memories, etc.) Bunker didn't hit rock bottom as much as a series of bottoms, and he doesn't feel guilty about his criminal past. Being a crook sucks mostly, but its all he knew how to do and he fought back against a shitty world in self-defense. The book's fueled by a distinct code and morality that's a snapshot of 1940's/50's machismo and its pretty gr A badass memoir that until the very end mostly skips past any of the expectations for memoir (tearful redemption, absolute rock bottom, wistful memories, etc.) Bunker didn't hit rock bottom as much as a series of bottoms, and he doesn't feel guilty about his criminal past. Being a crook sucks mostly, but its all he knew how to do and he fought back against a shitty world in self-defense. The book's fueled by a distinct code and morality that's a snapshot of 1940's/50's machismo and its pretty gripping. Bunker led a hell of a life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I can't see why this gets bad reviews. I think it's one of the best crime memoirs I've ever read, especially in that it neither over-glorifies his criminal lifestyle nor puts on a bunch of phony repentance. Bunker is a fluid writer with a good style, and he tells a story worth hearing, unadorned and unpretentious.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Interesting. I love prison books and this was a good one. Plus it had a happy ending. I’ve ordered some of Bunker’s fiction—I’m curious to see what that’s like.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kareem

    First book of the decade read, and I’m happy with that choice.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael S

    Education of a Civilan Great read and moves fast. Good insights about the racial tensions in the penal system and when it gets down to it an accurate depiction of life on the outside.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    There were times in Edward Bunker's life that he did transend his surroundings and people's expectations. Then there were times when he fulfilled society's expectations. The first 100 pages offer some great history and insights into LA in the 1940's and 50's and at times our own criminal justice system. Sadly, the momentum wanes and Bunker begins to wander. Always offering enough insights and mystery to keep the reader trudging through the pages of repetitive, Henry Milleresque, re-tellings of c There were times in Edward Bunker's life that he did transend his surroundings and people's expectations. Then there were times when he fulfilled society's expectations. The first 100 pages offer some great history and insights into LA in the 1940's and 50's and at times our own criminal justice system. Sadly, the momentum wanes and Bunker begins to wander. Always offering enough insights and mystery to keep the reader trudging through the pages of repetitive, Henry Milleresque, re-tellings of crimes past. I have to admit that when Bunker was on he was a really really good writer. This book may have been better if he had an editor, which is something Edward Bunker rejected as a person in general. It does peek my interest to read his fiction though.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Generally pretty entertaining read, though there's an (inescapable?) ignorance in some of this. It's hard to read a guy saying he doesn't have anything against black folks but in a prison race riot he'd fight with his own people. Perhaps this is a measure of an experience I've never had--it may be very natural to think in those terms if all you've know is prison interspersed with crime here and there. Still, toward the end of the book his reflections on racial tensions in San Quentin in the sixt Generally pretty entertaining read, though there's an (inescapable?) ignorance in some of this. It's hard to read a guy saying he doesn't have anything against black folks but in a prison race riot he'd fight with his own people. Perhaps this is a measure of an experience I've never had--it may be very natural to think in those terms if all you've know is prison interspersed with crime here and there. Still, toward the end of the book his reflections on racial tensions in San Quentin in the sixties, and his pat dismissal of black prisoners advocating politically reads less like cinéma vérité and more like a reflection of holdover attitudes from running with guys who identified primarily as "aryan." So in spite of the book's insights, i came away from it uneasy at times about how much empathy Bunker had for his black friends inside.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. More lessons here than most books. Hustlers used their time in jail to learn. Good idea. Quotes: "Whatever else I've done, flagrantly and repeatedly and without apology, violating every rule that blocked whatever it was I wanted, I have tried to sift kernels of truth from tons of chaff bullshit." "True education depends on the individual and can be found in books." "Poker isn't chess, where the inferior player never wins a game. In the short run the neophyte may be dealt unbeatable hands and sweep al More lessons here than most books. Hustlers used their time in jail to learn. Good idea. Quotes: "Whatever else I've done, flagrantly and repeatedly and without apology, violating every rule that blocked whatever it was I wanted, I have tried to sift kernels of truth from tons of chaff bullshit." "True education depends on the individual and can be found in books." "Poker isn't chess, where the inferior player never wins a game. In the short run the neophyte may be dealt unbeatable hands and sweep all before him, but over several hours or days the hands even up. The skilled player will minimize what he loses on losing hands and maximize those he wins. It could be said that he who says, "I bet," is a winner and he who says, "I call," is a loser." "I learned that behind bars it was good to have the reputation of being as violent as anyone but not crazy, not unpredictable. You didn't want fear, for fear can make even a coward dangerous. In a world without civil process or appeal to established authority, one needed others to think they had the ability to protect themselves and their interests." "The bliss washed over me, the absolute euphoria and utter insulation from every torment, mental and physical. I felt wonderful when I closed my eyes and savored the glow. I hadn't known what to expect. It was different from the perception-distorting high of marijuana and the almost electric energetic charge of amphetamines. It made me drowsy yet did not full my brain like Seconal or Nembutal. I simply felt good." "Because he was a friend to everyone who had any status, the depth and strength of his loyalty were always suspect. He had no enemies, and a man without any enemies usually doesn't have any real friends either." "The question was: how different could I be? We don't really choose what we are except within a certain range. Yet looking through the narrow slot at the rain falling through the floodlights onto the prison, I did make one vow: I would feed my hunger for knowledge. I would make this time serve me while I served it." "I never imagined it would take seventeen years and sex unpublished novels before the seventh was published. I persevered because I recognized that writing was my sole change of creating something, of climbing from the dark pit, fulfilling the dream, and resting in the sun. And by reading this far you must have realized that perseverance is fundamental to my nature. I get up from every knockdown as long as my body will follow my will. I've won many fights because I wouldn't quit, and I have also taken some awesome beatings for not knowing when to quit." "No man does evil in his mind." "I'd already heard too many heroic tales and raged to live. I had no family to constrain me with shame, and I owed society nothing, as far as I could determine, and considered most of its members deserving of whatever happened to them. They were classic hypocrites, proclaiming Christian virtue but at best living by older, meaner ideas and violating even those if it was expedient and they could suck up their courage. They did not live in good faith with the values and virtues that they professed, explicitly or implicitly. I had no misgivings about stealing their money. They might have gotten it legally, but not by creating anything, doing anything constructive, or otherwise contributing to the commonwealth or to human freedom or anything else save, perhaps, their immediate family." "Knowing what they wanted, the primal lust she aroused in men, gave her power she recognized, yet hidden beneath that was hunger to be the small, helpless female that is looked after, protected, and loved by men. Sometimes she thought she had found it, but so far it had proved a mirage when the masks were taken off and the face of truth exposed." "To make it work, it had to be a fait accompli at the moment they heard about it. The first move had to be checkmate where killing me would bring about the deaths of everyone they knew. Actually, they only had to believe that killing me would result in madmen they couldn't identify kicking down doors to slaughter them and their whole family." "I hadn't known how much I wanted Sandy until it appeared as if she was leaving." "It is phenomenal how fast a little toot of smack will take away the agony of withdrawal and most other kinds of pain. What it cannot take away it makes meaningless. You may still have a broken arm, but somehow it doesn't matter so much. The same is true for angst and anxiety. Toot instantly wraps up your troubles and throws them out the window. It cancels pain so hidden that you were unaware of its existence until it disappeared." "How reasonable was our idea of God when the tiny blue marble of Earth was, compared to the universe, less than one grain of sand on the beach at Santa Monica? If we could see galaxies of a billion suns each 2 million light-years away, how could it be that God spoke personally to Moses or had a son named Jesus? The Bible did have some truths and insights, the most obvious one being "...all is vanity."" "Seventeen years, six unpublished novels, scores of unpublished stories without seeing so much as one word in print. Writing had become my only chance to escape the morass of my existence. I had persevered even when the candle of hope had burned out. I had persevered from habit, because I had no idea what else to do."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Wow. This book was amazing, one of my personal favorites of the summer next to Native Son. Edward Bunker had a very rough life, some of which felt familiar. If he can publish a novel from behind bars, what's stopping me from starting one with my world of infinite freedom? I loved the gritty reality of this memoir and I definitely look forward to reading the novels he wrotr while behind bars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeroen

    Didn't finish.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jack O'Donnell

    There is a moment at the end of the 1960s when race war is engulfing and burning America and the ‘chickens have come to roost’ in prisons, when Bunker is taking from his cell block in San Quentin to visit a parole officer. The parole officer laughs. Bunker’s file is the biggest he’s ever seen, the size of a phone book. He stops laughing when he reads the note attached, see File 2. This is File 1 and 2, not written by the state, not written by those with an agenda. This is a book written by a wri There is a moment at the end of the 1960s when race war is engulfing and burning America and the ‘chickens have come to roost’ in prisons, when Bunker is taking from his cell block in San Quentin to visit a parole officer. The parole officer laughs. Bunker’s file is the biggest he’s ever seen, the size of a phone book. He stops laughing when he reads the note attached, see File 2. This is File 1 and 2, not written by the state, not written by those with an agenda. This is a book written by a writer, a great writer, telling you how it is. Take it or leave it. He usually took it and left what he didn’t want. That’s what got him into so much bother. Walking among 4000 prisoners in San Quentin’s yard he reflects on the eighteen years, most of his life, he’d spent in America’s children’s homes, toughest prisons and psychiatric institutions. The former differs from the latter in that the cure ensures vegetation of the mind and, like James Bond, has a license to kill – to cure. Bunker by this time is dealer inside, a kingpin pal trafficking drugs on the outside sending him an ounce of heroin a month. He explains the power that gave him. 'A gram of heroin, a tiny fraction of an ounce, would, for example, easily purchase a murder from many takers. When someone wanted to know, who had heroin, they asked, “Who’s God today?” Bunker earned his place as God. ‘Over the years I had assumed an attitude that mixed John Wayne with Machiavelli.’ But even God has to come down to earth and wants something better for himself. Bunker, a voracious reader and an IQ of 154 wanted to be a writer. He’d written six books and sent them out for publication. Rejected. Let me put that into perspective. In 1970 less than one percent of engineers in the United States were black. Bunker admits, even if he was realized, ‘Without a miracle I would return to crime.’ Bunker becomes the exception to the rule with the publication of his manuscript No Beast So Fierce. ‘I had no idea if it was any good,’ he admits. But a man needs more than one miracle to live. Look back at the message on the book, written from a sixty-five year old writer and actor to his five-year old son. ‘This one’s for my son. I’ve waited many years so I could deal him a better hand than I had. I’m sure he’ll play his cards better than I played mine. e.b.’ I laughed at one prison psychologist’s assessment of Bunker’s writing as ‘a manifestation of infantile fantasy.’ That’s a convoluted truth any would-be writer, including myself, would fully embrace. Write what you know and the truth will set you free. Not always, but sometimes you meet someone on the page that understands what makes us human. I’ll end not with Edward Bunker, but with another writer, a middle-class woman writer, who sheltered behind anonymity, Elena Ferrante, ‘often between the poor areas and the rich areas there are distances that can’t be crossed…If the poor spill over, washing up against the border of prosperity, the wealthy get frightened and turn violent.’ We live in violent times, especially with the election of a moron’s moron as American President. Edward Bunker from his odyssey from the hungry thirties to a bit part as Mr Blue in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which features as the cover image of Education of a Felon, playing a villain, understands that best of all. We have an American president playing the role of being human. No Beast So Fierce.

  19. 5 out of 5

    RB Love

    Terrific. Romantic. Horatio Alger to the 10th power. High power. —Eddie Bunker was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs. He did 18 years over three separate stints, mainly in San Quentin. He grew up, really from the time he was nine years old, institutionalized. That he became a writer in prison with his formal education ending at 7th grade is tribute to his own perserverance, belief in himself and life. It is also an interesting meditation on nurture vs. nature, born intelligence, native intelligence, st Terrific. Romantic. Horatio Alger to the 10th power. High power. —Eddie Bunker was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs. He did 18 years over three separate stints, mainly in San Quentin. He grew up, really from the time he was nine years old, institutionalized. That he became a writer in prison with his formal education ending at 7th grade is tribute to his own perserverance, belief in himself and life. It is also an interesting meditation on nurture vs. nature, born intelligence, native intelligence, street smarts and smart smarts. Bunker was seemingly born intelligent, became cagey and aggressive due to his environment and was then able to survive in the hostile situations life dealt him - to realize a great deal of his potential as a writer, an artist, a man and even, very late in life, a husband and father. Bunker's rendering of 1940's and 50's Los Angeles is great notalgic writing. You go there with him. I was reading parts of this book aloud to my wife and she loved it. She called it, "so romantic." His narrative is so detailed with regard to how things happened in his life, key moments, fights, capers, clothing, names, faces, the construction of prison weapons and the culture, politics, bureacracy and language of the prison system, that at times I found myself questioning how he could possibly have such recall. He also takes you through a lot of his self education and his recollections of what was going on around him as he was digesting certain books. It's good, good stuff, through and through. Excellent book. "It is phenomenal how fast a little toot of smack will take away the agony...It cancels pain so hidden that you were unaware of its existence" "back in prison for the third time. Race wars. The '60s. Mentions of Angela Davis and other rabble rousers." "Imagine someone with a seventh-grade education wanting to be a serious writer and accomplishing it without any help or encouragement. Indeed, the prison psychologist said it was another "manifestation of infantile fantasy." p.298.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Daryl

    I was really looking forward to reading Bunker's memoir. The man's life story is fascinating. In and out of prison from age 15 to age 40 (he served 18 years total during that time), and afterwards becoming a published and somewhat renowned writer of crime fiction, as well as sometime actor (he was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs). The memoir starts out interesting enough, detailing Bunker's early years on the streets and in homes for boys. Several times I had to remind myself I was reading about an 8 I was really looking forward to reading Bunker's memoir. The man's life story is fascinating. In and out of prison from age 15 to age 40 (he served 18 years total during that time), and afterwards becoming a published and somewhat renowned writer of crime fiction, as well as sometime actor (he was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs). The memoir starts out interesting enough, detailing Bunker's early years on the streets and in homes for boys. Several times I had to remind myself I was reading about an 8- or 10-year-old boy, as he seems much older, living on the streets and committing petty crimes. At 16, he was the youngest person ever to be sent to San Quentin, and later served time in California's infamous Folsom Prison. My sympathies for Bunker went up and down as I read. He had a really rough early life, but he also had a lot of advantages at times - people who were willing to support and take care of him, both financially and emotionally - and he threw those away. As the book progresses, it starts to drag more and more. We get lots of details about life in prison (although at this point in time none of it seems too revelatory), but at times the details and the writing get bogged down and boring. As I got closer to the end of the book, I realized that I wasn't going to find out what I really wanted to know: how Bunker turned his life around after getting out of prison for the last time, and his writing and Hollywood career. His first published novel - the seventh he'd written - was published about the time he was released, but that's the last salient detail we get about Bunker's life. Still, it makes me want to read some of his fiction.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kirk

    If you're into prison lit, or hardknock lives, then Bunker's story will probably interest you. Don't get me wrong, the man lived an impressively tough life in and out of prison and has plenty of stories to tell about it; it just feels very cyclical: out of prison, gets into trouble, back in prison where it's very tense, out on parole, busted again, back in prison, repeat. Speaking of repetition, this is something that Bunker falls prey to quite often from chapter to chapter. It's mostly in the w If you're into prison lit, or hardknock lives, then Bunker's story will probably interest you. Don't get me wrong, the man lived an impressively tough life in and out of prison and has plenty of stories to tell about it; it just feels very cyclical: out of prison, gets into trouble, back in prison where it's very tense, out on parole, busted again, back in prison, repeat. Speaking of repetition, this is something that Bunker falls prey to quite often from chapter to chapter. It's mostly in the way he describes things, using the same phrases; or the way he introduces us to a character in one chapter and then reintroduces him fifty pages later like it's the first time he's talked about him. Coupled with a few typos, it smacks of some half-assed editing. Bunker also goes to great lengths to show us the extent of his reading and his knowledge, name-dropping authors and philosophers one after author. Yes, it's important for him to discuss these to an extent so that we can come to understand the instructors in his "education," but he does it so often and in such a way that I can't help but wonder if he's just trying to prove his "intelligence cred," or that he's "not your average con." Judging from the title, I'm guessing that the book's scope was limited to Bunker's formative years, but it would have been nice to read on past his time in prison and hear about his burgeoning literary career, family life, and the perils of parole.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Holiday

    Something I always keep in mind about books by criminals: their sociopathic tendencies are what allowed them to be successful in their world. I find myself convinced by their explanations and at the end set all that aside somewhat. The idea I think is that they are seducing you the same way they seduced the variety of necessary people during their life of crime-from lawyers to judges to victims and also themselves. My feeling is that if you leave the book particularly convinced or supportive of Something I always keep in mind about books by criminals: their sociopathic tendencies are what allowed them to be successful in their world. I find myself convinced by their explanations and at the end set all that aside somewhat. The idea I think is that they are seducing you the same way they seduced the variety of necessary people during their life of crime-from lawyers to judges to victims and also themselves. My feeling is that if you leave the book particularly convinced or supportive of their worldview, you've probably taken a wrong turn somewhere. Empathize but don't commit. That being said there are a bunch of really interesting anecdotes in the book about Los Angeles (particularly if you enjoyed LA Confidential). At one point Bunker visits a friend of a friend who happens to be Marion Davies, at what I think is a house that just went on sale for $38 million dollars. The writer went on to make a few different movies which I haven't seen but intend to. If you enjoyed Alvin Karpis's autobiography then you'll like this book as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam Klemens

    I got more out of this book than just some amazing stories. I got an in depth look into prison life from an author capable of handling the subject. Reading through the stories you become hooked in quickly and won't want to put it down. My best advice is start it on Friday. If you're weekend is free, you may be putting it back on the shelf by Sunday night. The writing is very clear and entertaining. It reminded me of Iceberg Slim, althoug I think Bunker may be slightly more ethical than slim, as I got more out of this book than just some amazing stories. I got an in depth look into prison life from an author capable of handling the subject. Reading through the stories you become hooked in quickly and won't want to put it down. My best advice is start it on Friday. If you're weekend is free, you may be putting it back on the shelf by Sunday night. The writing is very clear and entertaining. It reminded me of Iceberg Slim, althoug I think Bunker may be slightly more ethical than slim, as ironic as that sounds. I respected Bunker because as far as you can tell, he is very straightforward and unflinching in revealing his character and the multitude of flaws contained therein. I liked his dissemination on the race wars towards the end of the book. I thought it was interesting to see black and white prison dynamics. Five out five. Very interesting, well written. You will know more about prison dynamics and what it takes to survive amongst cons than perhaps you ever thought you would.

  24. 4 out of 5

    OCNY

    Reading this memoir was the equivalent of mental lockup. Wasn't the page turner I anticipated. In fact, it wasn't a page turner at all. It was slow and laborious w/a lot of peeking ahead to see how many pages were left. And, as another reviewer remarked, there were enough typos to keep a copyeditor employed. The memoir reads like the author dictated it instead of sitting down and writing it. In instances, his dates are off, ie, how could he be squiring a Penthouse Pet around town in 1960 when th Reading this memoir was the equivalent of mental lockup. Wasn't the page turner I anticipated. In fact, it wasn't a page turner at all. It was slow and laborious w/a lot of peeking ahead to see how many pages were left. And, as another reviewer remarked, there were enough typos to keep a copyeditor employed. The memoir reads like the author dictated it instead of sitting down and writing it. In instances, his dates are off, ie, how could he be squiring a Penthouse Pet around town in 1960 when the magazine Penthouse didn't come out until 1969? Things like that wore on me. Instead of feeling excitement or suspense, I started to wonder how much of the book was real and how much was, well, fiction. Stick w/Bunker's novels instead, especially his gritty, No Beast So Fierce. Or if you want a great prison yarn, try Henri Charriere's Papillon.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eve Kay

    I read Bunker's novels first, a few books, before finding out he had been in jail himself. There always was a somewhat strange air about his stories and reading about his personal life I realized what it was. None of his works felt pretentious or snobbish in any way. Not that you would ever expect that in novels about jail or crime. But he was so real and staight forward, it made sense, his life. When I read this book about his life, I lost all interest in the rest of his books. None of them eve I read Bunker's novels first, a few books, before finding out he had been in jail himself. There always was a somewhat strange air about his stories and reading about his personal life I realized what it was. None of his works felt pretentious or snobbish in any way. Not that you would ever expect that in novels about jail or crime. But he was so real and staight forward, it made sense, his life. When I read this book about his life, I lost all interest in the rest of his books. None of them even came close to his personal life. The book is maybe written in a little too much of a detailed way to my taste, but the events and the people all seem interesting. I felt like I was reading an actual crime novel. And a better one at that than his actual novels.

  26. 5 out of 5

    J. Niimi

    A real page turner. The autobiography of the author of The Animal Factory and No Beast So Fierce (you may also know Bunker from his role as Mr. Blue in 'Reservoir Dogs'.) This man led the most brutal and crazy life imaginable -- you begin to lose track of how many times he's beaten to a pulp, or how many times he attacks a fellow prisoner with a homemade shank. Beautifully vivid descriptions of Los Angeles in the '40s and '50s. Guided by an unflagging moral sense despite the shadiness of his cri A real page turner. The autobiography of the author of The Animal Factory and No Beast So Fierce (you may also know Bunker from his role as Mr. Blue in 'Reservoir Dogs'.) This man led the most brutal and crazy life imaginable -- you begin to lose track of how many times he's beaten to a pulp, or how many times he attacks a fellow prisoner with a homemade shank. Beautifully vivid descriptions of Los Angeles in the '40s and '50s. Guided by an unflagging moral sense despite the shadiness of his criminal activities. Honest, even-handed, and fascinating. Impossible to put down.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shanna

    http://bookwayfarer.wordpress.com/201... I love this autobiography. It has everything. The criminal life that starts so early I could hardly believe it. It tells the life of a man who got pulled into the criminal fold very young and fought his way through boy's homes, psychiatric wards and of course prisons. And then goes on to become an actor and writer. He knew many actors that are still in the business today and met some of them in prison. It's one of the most lively and interesting reads I've http://bookwayfarer.wordpress.com/201... I love this autobiography. It has everything. The criminal life that starts so early I could hardly believe it. It tells the life of a man who got pulled into the criminal fold very young and fought his way through boy's homes, psychiatric wards and of course prisons. And then goes on to become an actor and writer. He knew many actors that are still in the business today and met some of them in prison. It's one of the most lively and interesting reads I've ever had. I recommend this book to those who like to read about the criminal mind, but not of a murdering disposition.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Anderson

    Here is case where the Kindle was the most viable option for reading this book. At least for me, a reader who has never had the will to arise from a comfy locale to find a dictionary when a new word is presented. It was evident that Mr. Bunker spent a great deal of time reading in prison and his lexicon presented itself in his writing. Not overly wordy per se, but he certainly has an affinity for a couple of rarely used words. As far as a review, this was an intriguing read. His valid viewpoint i Here is case where the Kindle was the most viable option for reading this book. At least for me, a reader who has never had the will to arise from a comfy locale to find a dictionary when a new word is presented. It was evident that Mr. Bunker spent a great deal of time reading in prison and his lexicon presented itself in his writing. Not overly wordy per se, but he certainly has an affinity for a couple of rarely used words. As far as a review, this was an intriguing read. His valid viewpoint increases the interest of the tale. Having seen Mr. Bunker on screen also aided in it's substance. Further, he seems to have had a strangely Zeligesque life behind and outside bars.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    I'm a few chapters in and already young Eddie Bunker is in the LA County jail celling with men down from death row at San Quinten. He has been kicked out of or run away from foster homes, military schools and reformatories for boys. He is all of 15 years old and is a salty dog. For those unfamiliar with Bunker he was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs and wrote the book and screen play Animal Factory was based on. I am fascinated by the vivid picture he paints of post WWII Los Angeles and it's seedy und I'm a few chapters in and already young Eddie Bunker is in the LA County jail celling with men down from death row at San Quinten. He has been kicked out of or run away from foster homes, military schools and reformatories for boys. He is all of 15 years old and is a salty dog. For those unfamiliar with Bunker he was Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs and wrote the book and screen play Animal Factory was based on. I am fascinated by the vivid picture he paints of post WWII Los Angeles and it's seedy underbelly. If you liked LA Confidential you might like this book, as it portrays that odd mix of cops and cons.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Winterburn

    brilliants in places but I found it went on and on and on. Reading about the early part of his life was very interesting and then his "platonic" relationship with Louise Wallis was exceptional but then I found a lot of the prison stuff kept repeating itself. Towards the end there's a lot about the race wars that went on in prison which was an interesting read. For some reason the "time left in chapter" on my Kindle Paperwhite didn't like this book. "38 minutes left in chapter" often took over an brilliants in places but I found it went on and on and on. Reading about the early part of his life was very interesting and then his "platonic" relationship with Louise Wallis was exceptional but then I found a lot of the prison stuff kept repeating itself. Towards the end there's a lot about the race wars that went on in prison which was an interesting read. For some reason the "time left in chapter" on my Kindle Paperwhite didn't like this book. "38 minutes left in chapter" often took over an hour and that wasn't based on my reading speed and so because of the book itself and how the Kindle handled it, it felt like it was never going to end, but it did.....thankfully.

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