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I-Team: Books Bulger Read Behind Bars Shaped His Future

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV
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WBZ-TV's I-Team obtained several never before seen photos of James 'Whitey' Bulger, including this one of him vacationing in London.

WBZ-TV’s I-Team obtained several never before seen photos of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, including this one of him vacationing in London.

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BOSTON (CBS) – As mob boss Whitey Bulger sits in his prison cell, what does he do and what goes through his mind?

We get a glimpse of that through the writings and notebooks he kept in the past, starting with a remarkable reading list comparable to what any Ivy League student might have.

Twenty-four notebook pages filled with Whitey Bulger’s meticulous script — all obtained exclusively by the i-Team – that list some eight hundred books Bulger apparently read while serving nine years in federal prison in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The list includes titles like A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and authors like Hemingway, Kipling, Camus, and Tolstoy.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports.

Whitey never even graduated from high school but this list goes on and on — classic literature and history books a serious college student would be proud to say they’ve read.

“Nineteenth Century figures, Nobel Laureates in the 20th Century,” said Brandeis University professor Steven Whitfield, who was shown the gangster’s reading list.

“The remarkable thing I would say about the list speaking as a college professor is how respectable that list is in terms of what would be syllabi for courses at very, very many colleges and universities,” Whitfield said.

Whitey spent his life as a murderous crime boss, but these books he read and these notes he kept reveal another, seemingly contradictory side of the man, including how disciplined he was. And that’s a trait investigators say he used on the streets.

Photos: The Whitey Bulger Scrapbook

“That’s why he was a good fugitive and actually that’s why he was so good at what he did in his criminal enterprise,” said former State Police Colonel Thomas Foley, who led the investigations that resulted in the criminal charges against Bulger.

“If he had put some of that intelligence into a legitimate business, he’d probably be a millionaire right now and not sitting in the Plymouth House of Correction,” Foley said.

In many of the letters he wrote from prison, also obtained by the I-Team, Bulger discussed the books he was reading with his brother, William Bulger, who graduated from college and law school and went on to be the president of the Massachusetts Senate.

The list reveals that William sent Whitey books in prison for Christmas in 1956, 1957 and 1958. In a letter back to his brother, Whitey wrote that he “had a dormant desire for literature that was shocked into awareness with the start of imprisonment.”

Whitey also wrote to his brother that W. Somerset Maugham had become his “favorite author” and his list includes nine books by the popular English novelist, including Of Human Bondage.

“Maugham would be the kind of author that if you wanted to boast of reading a reasonably serious author, Maugham would count,” Whitfield said.

Whitey also read the ancient Greek playwrights — Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes — as well as French classics like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a tale about a man imprisoned on an island.

I-Team: The Whitey Bulger Letters

When he wasn’t reading in prison, Whitey was working out. In pages from a notebook he kept in prison, obtained by the I-Team, Whitey detailed his weightlifting regimen.

His routine included the bench press, lateral raises and bicep curls and he carefully recorded weight amounts and numbers of reps and sets. In a letter home, Whitey wrote, “I have never felt better physically.”

For his part, Colonel Foley wasn’t buying the image of Whitey as the scholar-athlete.

“It’s just like the Robin Hood image that’s been out there on the street — Jimmy Bulger out there doing good things for people. He wasn’t doing good things for people,” Foley said.

“The fact of the matter is he killed numerous people. He caused a lot of pain and heartache to a lot of families and he enjoyed it,” Foley added.

I-Team: Whitey’s LSD Tests

Whitey Bulger is a federal prisoner once again, and this time he is charged with 19 murders. What’s on his reading list now is anyone’s guess.

One footnote: According to the reading list, the books William Bulger gave Whitey for Christmas were Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Dr. Zhivago, and a biography of former New York Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for the U.S. presidency.

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