Book Review: Outlaws: One Man’s rise through the Savage World of Renegade Bikers, Hell’s Angels, and Global Crime

Outlaws by Tony Thompson

Outlaws: One Man’s rise through the Savage World of Renegade Bikers, Hell’s Angels, and Global Crime by Tony Thompson is an account of of one man’s experience in outlaw biker world. Thompson is regarded as one of Britain’s top true-crime writers and appears regularly on radio and television as an expert on crime. Previously, he was the crime correspondent for the Observer.

I grew up on the southeast side of Cleveland in a very safe neighborhood with many immigrant families, some didn’t even speak English: only Polish. There was a clear dividing line where safety ended: Miles Avenue. Right on the boarder, just past the Harley Davidson shop, spray painted in large letters, high on a building facing Miles Avenue, was a sign reading “God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t”. I never gave it much thought, the bikers were always “cool” with me, the paperboy. I grew up almost never seeing a police car in our neighborhood. It was peaceful. When a fire broke out in a house down the street, the house was quickly surrounded by bikers… manning hoses. The fire was out before the fire department arrived. That was the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. Things change: There was a war with the Hells Angels in the mid-70s, not in my neighborhood, but as the paperboy I read about it. The neighborhood is now barely recognizable. The Harley shop moved deep into the suburbs. Motorcycles were a big part of my life well into adulthood. I owned mostly Triumphs and worked for a Harley dealership while finishing up graduate school.

I knew there was a much darker side to the outlaw biker clubs. Most people know that. Creating a safe neighborhood helps its public image and more importantly for the club, keeps the police away. Biker culture has been documented, by people like Hunter S. Thompson. It also has been sensationalized by the reporting at Hollister and the Brando’s role in The Wild One. Thompson’s book does something that really hasn’t been done since Hunter S. Thompson; it gives an insiders view not just of a local club but a world view. Although, centered on a English club formed by several small clubs coming together for their own protection. The book is based on the real life experiences of Daniel Boone.

Outlaws covers three continents and the internal and external politics of the major biker clubs as international organizations. The Outlaws (both British and American would eventually combine), The Hells Angels, The Mongols, The Pagans, The Banditos, and local English clubs are all included in the book. The story telling is outstanding and vivid. There were a few times that I thought I wanted to get back to that movie…uh book. Reading it gave the impression that I was actually seeing the events, something not very common in nonfiction. Thompson, through Boone captures the good and the bad of the the biker culture and it’s growth and increasing criminal involvement. It goes inside the rules of the clubs and the relations between different clubs. It also goes into the day to day life of the bikers themselves.

An outstanding read and will show the reader the difference from the weekend Harley dress-up rider and an outlaw biker. It goes deep into a society that is closed off to most people. Simply an outstanding read.

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