**Vulture's The Best Books of 2016**
**Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2016**
**featured in NPR's Guide to 2016's Great Reads**
The powerful account of one writer's unlikely friendship with his childhood bully, now the president of a motorcycle club in one of America's most dangerous cities.
Once upon a time, Alex Abramovich and Trevor Latham were mortal enemies: miniature outlaws in a Long Island elementary school, perpetually at each other's throats. Then they lost track of each other. Decades later, when they met again, Abramovich was a writer and Latham had become President of the East Bay Rats, a motorcycle club in Oakland.
In 2010, Abramovich moved to California to immerse himself in Latham's world - one of fight clubs, booze-filled nights, and beat-downs on the city's streets. But dangerous, dysfunctional Oakland was also becoming one of America's most rapidly gentrifying cities, and the questions Abramovich had arrived with were thrown into brutal relief: How do we live with the burden of violence? How do we overcome it? Do we overcome it?
As Trevor, the Rats, and the city they live in careen between crises and moments of renaissance, Abramovich explores issues of friendship, family, history, and destiny - and looks at what happens when those things fail. Bullies is at once a vivid, visceral narrative of an unusual friendship and an incisive portrait of a beautiful, terrible city.
A childhood antagonism becomes a complex appreciation among adults in a biker gang in this tragicomic exploration of male violence and bonding. Journalist Abramovich was bullied (as he remembers it) by Trevor Latham in elementary school. Upon reconnecting many years later, after Latham founded the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club in Oakland, he gets along famously with his erstwhile nemesis. He steeps himself in the Rats' goofy outlaw culture, with its fight parties (typical bill: two Jews vs. two Gentiles), heavy drinking, good-natured gunplay, and japes such as painting the club's name on a beached whale. But he perceives a darker side claustrophobic enmities, savage beatings of homeless people and wonders whether Latham's charisma might be a kind of sociopathy. Abramovich sets the story against a vivid portrait of a blighted, crime-ridden Oakland seething with warrior bands, including an organized-crime family associated with Your Black Muslim Bakery, Occupy Oakland militants, and the riot police they battled. ("I don't care about the politics... I'm only here for the violence," Latham exults after instigating one such confrontation.) Abramovich's sharp-eyed, entertaining reportage unfolds like a mash-up of The Wild One, Fight Club, and Jackass; his examination of the Rats' worldview is sympathetic and nuanced, but squarely faces the group's dysfunctions and the troubling questions they raise about American society. Photos.