REVIEW: The Profession of Violence by John Pearson

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Read this book for: non-fiction, London crime, gang crime, violence

Quick Review: A very fact-based account of a surprisingly robust gang active in 60s London; fascinating access and details.


The classic, bestselling account of the infamous Kray twins, now a major film, LEGEND, starring Tom Hardy.

Reggie and Ronald Kray ruled London’s gangland during the 1960s with a ruthlessness and viciousness that shocks even now. Building an empire of organised crime such as nobody has done before or since, the brothers swindled, intimidated, terrorised, extorted and brutally murdered. John Pearson explores the strange relationship that bound the twins together, and charts their gruesome career to their downfall and imprisonment for life in 1969.

THE PROFESSION OF VIOLENCE: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE KRAY TWINS is a non-fiction account of the lives and criminal activities of the Kray twins, two London gangsters who ran a fairly successful empire in the 1960s, charting both their origin and rise to power to how their personalities ultimately brought them down.

Interestingly, author John Pearson was actually hired by the Krays to write this account, and so had unprecedented access to the Kray family to learn their story. Knowing this, you expect a fairly biased and action-packed account, but Pearson does a remarkable job of sticking to objective facts without sensationalizing them.

This narrative method of telling the story of the Krays without too much bias or drama is even more surprising given the content. The Kray twins, but particularly ‘Ronnie’ Kray, were extremely aggressive individuals who rose to power initially through their propensity for very effective physical violence. Part of what makes this story compelling is the contrast between the Kray twins, and how Ronnie’s mental health shaped the way they handled their business, and eventually became the means for their downfall. The loyalty of Reggie to his brother is very powerful.

That said, this dispassionate narrative method leaves you wanting more detail – not necessarily about the violence, but how their relationships and empire actually worked. How did they get their introductions into high society? What did that look like and what did others think of them? What was Reggie thinking about his brother’s illness and how did Ronnie feel about moving into more legitimate business?

THE PROFESSION OF VIOLENCE is an intriguing first taste of the story of the Kray brothers, and one that makes you want to look further into their lives. Pick it up as a place to start learning about this fascinating time, but expect to want to continue your research on your own after you finish!

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