American Animals is a true crime memoir about a trio of childhood friends and their plan to pull off one of the biggest art heists in history.
I received a copy of American Animals for free with no review expected. All opinions are, of course, my own.
Eric Borsuk is the author of AMERICAN ANIMALS, the memoir featured in the acclaimed motion picture of the same name. His writing, which focuses heavily on criminal justice and prison-related issues, has appeared in such publications as VICE Magazine and The Marshall Project. In addition, he serves on the board of directors of Die Jim Crow, the nation’s first nonprofit record label for currently and formerly incarcerated musicians. He lives in Brooklyn.
First published independently on October 30, 2018. Republished with Turner Publishing in 2020.
Why I Picked It Up
I’m part of the MFM (My Favorite Murder) book club on Facebook and we read this in May!
Famous First Words
“‘Roughly fifty billion species have existed on Earth,’ the geology professor says, an old gray-haired man with tired eyes, ‘and almost ninety-nine percent have gone extinct.'”
AMERICAN ANIMALS is a coming-of-age crime memoir centered around three childhood friends: Warren, Spencer, and Eric. Disillusioned with freshman year of college, and determined to escape from their mundane Middle-American existences, the three hatch a plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of artwork and rare manuscripts from a university museum. The story that unfolds is a gripping adventure of teenage rebellion, from page-turning meetings with black-market art dealers in Amsterdam to the opulent galleries of Christie’s auction house in Rockefeller Center. AMERICAN ANIMALS ushers the reader along a gut-wrenching ride of adolescent self-destruction, providing a front-row seat to the inception, planning, and execution of the heist while offering a rare glimpse into the evolution of a crime—all narrated by one of the perpetrators in a darkly comic, action-packed, true-crime caper.
My Thoughts & Takeaways
I had honestly never even heard of this story back when it happened or of the movie when it came out two years ago. This is weird considering 1) I’m from Tennessee and this occurred in Kentucky and 2) I keep up on movies pretty well.
This book was short and an easy read (I read in just a few hours). It starts with the beginning of college life, a quick glimpse into fraternity life (and props to the author for jumping out of that quickly – sounds just as terrible as I imagined).
I know that the book is only told from the perspective of one of the four friends, but you quickly realize how the whole “people behave differently in social situations” monomer is correct. Don’t believe me? Just look up the Stanford Experiment.
Eric is easy to like and sympathize with, but he ignores a lot of red flags and does things he really doesn’t want to do (according to the author).
This is a fast-paced and efficient look at their plan. Given the time they took to plan (over a year), the dry runs, the details, and so on, I was really expecting them to pull it off. It’s weird to feel they were both smart and dumb at the same time, but I did.
The book and narrative are entertaining and captivating. The book is an easy read, Borsuk is overall a really good writer, but I wanted more.
What happened after?
Borsuk and the three friends definitely experience privilege on a level many white males do – not having to work, half-assing their way through school, interactions with police that don’t’ end in death, the fact that they committed this crime and were able to write a book and a movie on the experience when others would likely still be sitting in prison, and so on.
Borsuk is clearly intelligent as that’s obvious just through his writing and his thought processes, he has a moral compass (he takes care of his roommate’s dog, Dixie), and, overall, I think this was just a ridiculous idea that one friend brought up as a joke likely and it just snowballed and it’s easy to get caught up in an idea when other people are involved.
Eric (not sure about the others) definitely turned his life around. He is clearly a good writer and sits on the board of non-profit Die Jim Crow, the first US record label devoted to recording formerly and currently incarcerated musicians.
“The days don’t begin and end like they used to, in neat organized segments, one discernible from the other. Now it’s more like never-ending radiation left over from the big bang, infinitely sizzling my brain until the end of time.”