Selectively Lawless

The True Story of Emmett Long, An American Original

Non-Fiction - Biography
162 Pages
Reviewed on 11/11/2018
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Author Biography

Author ASA DUNNINGTON has lived his own storied life. Born June 7, 1939, in Logan, Iowa, his adventures have taken him from writing for a newspaper to serving in the Air Force to working on a Presidential campaign. A dreamer in his own right, Dunnington believes in achieving great things, whatever your calling may be.

Dunnington met the larger-than-life figure at the center of his book while on vacation with his first wife, who was Emmett Long’s niece. He immediately knew he had found someone special, and he soon agreed to record Emmett’s life story. The resulting narrative history became Selectively Lawless: The True Story of Emmett Long, an American Original.

In addition, he has also written an autobiography, What a Life!: An Autobiography. Dunnington is now married to his second wife, Cheryl, and he has three children and nine grandchildren.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Susan Sewell for Readers' Favorite

In the early twentieth century, a man uses ingenuity and his ability to skirt the law to forge the life he desires in the historical novel Selectively Lawless: The True Story of Emmett Long, An American Original by Asa Dunnington. Growing up in Texas and Oklahoma during the early 1900s, Emmett Long is the son of a sharecropper. Not happy with eking out a living for somebody else, fourteen-year-old Emmett strikes out on his own. Armed with resourcefulness and the exceptional gambling skills he learned from his aunt, Emmett sets out for the west coast. Emmett gains a small fortune on his travels as a card shark, though he sometimes cheats. After eighteen months, Emmett purchases a roadster and drives home to show his family. Using the money he earned gambling on the road, Emmett goes into a partnership with his childhood friend and builds a still. Together they create a large and profitable bootlegging business. As time passes and his businesses expand, Emmett becomes a respected citizen of the region and an iconic example of a western outlaw.

Set in the early 1900ss, the engaging historical era story, Selectively Lawless: The True Story of Emmett Long, An American Original by Asa Dunnington, is a fascinating real-life depiction of an extraordinary man. Emmett's provocative propensity for living outside the law gives the story a Jesse James flavor. The irascible protagonist, striking backdrops, and vivid storyline create a spellbinding tale. Asa Dunnington has done an excellent job of portraying the era, the setting, and Emmett's character. Based on the actual events in Emmett Long's life, it is a stunning tale that will enchant readers who love stories about the unique characters who were pioneers of the west.

Tracy Young

Emmett Long was born in 1904 in southern Oklahoma and, as he entered his teens, it soon became apparent that he was not going to be content to work for others. His father was a hard-working rancher and his family had helped to build many of the fences that bordered the land, but Emmett dreamt of greater things. Exhibiting a gift for poker playing he picked his last row of cotton and set off for his cousin Decimer’s place. This was the beginning of the story of Emmett’s rise to fame and fortune as a professional gambler. Two years later he returned home, fulfilling his prophecy that he would return in a shiny car with his pockets full of cash. Selectively Lawless: The True Story of Emmett Long, An American Original is the account of Emmett’s life and the legacy he left behind. Asa Dunnington tells a story filled with facts from Long and his family, of one of the true originals born of the times in which he lived.

This is a great story of a man who loved gambling and was also aware of the benefits of hard work. Strong as an ox, he could kill a man with one punch and reduce a man to fainting without laying a finger on him. He ran successful speakeasies and provided liquor during Prohibition. He also robbed banks and casinos, yet he was a man who commanded respect and love from those who worked for him. Selectively Lawless is a beautifully told story of a legend of the lawless West and Asa Dunnington is a natural storyteller who tells the tale with humor and pathos. Littered with references to other infamous names from the past, this story spans the growth of 20th century America as well as Emmett Long. Strap yourself in for one hell of a ride and be prepared to laugh and cry with this legend of his times.

Pikasho Deka

Selectively Lawless is the story of a true red-blooded American outlaw whose meteoric rise during one of the worst periods in American history made him the stuff of legends. Written by Asa Dunnington, the book is a biography of the life of Emmett Long, who tells his life story to his nephew. Determined not to end up working in a cotton field, fourteen-year-old Emmett Long sets off west to make a name for himself. After traversing the West Coast and making a significant amount of money gambling, Emmett returns home with 18,000 dollars in cash, which he promptly re-invests in a burgeoning bootlegging business. Through his exploits, Emmett gains widespread notoriety, even serving a stint in prison. It is not until he meets the love of his life, Merl, that he finally decides to settle down.

An inspirational story about a strong-willed man, Selectively Lawless hooks you in from the first page and holds your attention until the end. Heartfelt and relatable, author Asa Dunnington's tale encapsulates how an adventurous spirit and indomitable will overcome any obstacle life throws at you. The narrative is well-paced, and the prose flows smoothly. There is a sense of authenticity to the narrative, making the story all the more captivating to read. I found myself particularly engrossed during the events around the bootlegging business in the Great Depression era. Despite being an outlaw, Emmett is a likable protagonist whom you can't help rooting for. If you enjoy reading well-written biographies about charismatic people, Selectively Lawless is the book for you.

Joe Wisinski

Selectively Lawless: The True Story Of Emmett Long, An American Original is the biography of an uneducated Texas man who was born in the early 20th century. Author Asa Dunnington, who is Long’s nephew by marriage, takes us through his uncle’s life starting with his hard life as the son of a sharecropping lay minister. As a teenager, Long left the cotton fields of Texas and traveled to the west coast, learning to gamble and earning a huge amount of money for the time. Upon returning home, Long became a moonshiner and engaged in other illegal activities, including robbery and murder. But Long didn’t live his entire life in that fashion. Later he married, fathered a child at a late age, and turned, mostly, to honest work. He lived to a ripe old age.

I enjoyed this book enormously. Asa Dunnington is an outstanding writer and tells his uncle’s story with refreshing honesty, mixed in with plenty of humor. It was fascinating to read about a contemporary of Charley “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who Long knew well, and other Depression Era gangsters. Selectively Lawless: The True Story Of Emmett Long, An American Original is well named. Long was exactly what the title says, lawless, but only at the times of and reasons for his choosing. He was also fiercely loyal to those near to him and generous with his sometimes ill-begotten wealth. I highly recommend this book not only for those interested in the life story of a fascinating 20th-century American personality but for anyone looking for a rip-roaring narrative superbly told.

Tammy Ruggles

Selectively Lawless: The True Story Of Emmett Long, An American Original by Asa Dunnington is an engaging and entertaining work of historical fiction set against the backdrop of Texas cotton fields and bootlegging. We have the main character, Emmett, who does something daring at the age of 14. He's the son of a minister and sharecropper but decides to leave the fields, vowing to never pick cotton another day in his life. Striking out in a completely different direction than his family had in mind, this independent, free-spirited young man sharpens his talents as a gambler on an Indian Scout motorcycle and rides along the Pacific Coast. Eventually, he decides to go back home to his family behind the wheel of a Buick Roadster, $18,000 richer, which he then parlays into a bootlegging venture.

Asa Dunnington has created a winning story that is character-driven and full of energy, twists, and turns. The characters he builds are memorable, and the situations are as well, like where Emmett runs a brothel, a speakeasy, and several more businesses. The style is easy and friendly, drawing you in and holding your attention through each chapter. A lot of people have thought about striking out when they're young to do something bold, something different. This story captures that independent streak. There are ups and downs in Emmett's journey, and Dunnington describes everything in vivid detail. But don't let the title fool you. Emmett isn't all bad: he just might be an anti-hero. If you like biographies about those in organized crime, you'll love Selectively Lawless: The True Story Of Emmett Long by Asa Dunnington.

Vincent Dublado

Selectively Lawless: The True Story Of Emmett Long, An American Original by Asa Dunnington presents the life story of a not-so-popular outlaw during the Depression Era named Emmett Long, who was known to be a rancher by profession and a gambler by passion. Long is the uncle of the author, and Dunnington writes about his uncle’s exploits based on accounts told to him by his cousin (Long’s daughter) and Long himself. This narrative reveals accounts from conversations of long ago, and it presents Long from his formative years as the son of a lay minister to his decision to stop working on the cotton fields of Texas to take on a more lucrative career. He becomes a cardsharp, a moonshiner, bank and train robber, and ultimately, a murderer.

At the end of this biographical tale, Long seems to look back with remorse at his lawlessness and finds refuge in religion as a form of expiating his sins. Personally, this is the only part of the story that I don’t find convincing. Asa Dunnington exhausts all means to make it persuasive, and some may buy it and some may not. It is not that easy to wash away a sin as heavy as murder. On the plus side, Dunnington writes with passion and his sense of detail is bewitching. The weaving of style, tone, and content gives it a sense of work that is meticulous and elaborately recalled from sources who told the tale to the author many years ago. It is up to you to decide whether Long deserves redemption at the end, but as a profile study of an outlaw, Selectively Lawless has enough thrills and painful realities to keep you engaged.