Reviews for Inventor and the Tycoon : A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures


Booklist Reviews 2012 December #2
The obliteration of time and space has been a singular achievement accomplished by a host of inventors, businesspeople, and engineers since the Industrial Revolution. Yet, in the case of Gilded Age railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and inventor-cum-murderer Eadweard Muybridge, it's not so much a matter of destroying distances as creating ways to commodify them. In Ball's incisive new book, both men seek their fortunes in post-gold rush California. While Stanford is instrumental in linking east to west via his Central Pacific Railroad, reaping millions and national attention, photographer Muybridge goes a step further and tries to bottle motion by photographing the movement of a trotting horse at Stanford's insistence. Muybridge is the father of the moving picture and a genius with a sociopathic streak that spills over into a tale of frontier scheming and greed against the canvas of a shrinking American West. Well researched and with a narrative that hopscotches through time, but never at the expense of clarity or Ball's dry wit, the book tells a story hardly remembered yet altogether familiar. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #2
National Book Award winner Ball (Writing/Yale Univ.; The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA, 2007, etc.) returns with a complex story about railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and the murdering man who for a time was his protégé, pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge, as he writes, altered the spelling of his name about as often as a bored high school student. He sometimes went by "Helios." (One name he didn't use, but would have fit, was Edweird.) Ball fractures conventional chronology like a dry twig, rearranging the pieces into an appealing display. He begins on January 16, 1880, the day that Muybridge first displayed for Stanford and his guests the moving pictures of a running horse on a device Muybridge called a zoogyroscope, a device that projected images on a revolving disc. Ball tells the stories of Stanford (who rose from grocer to railroad magnate), the multiple careers of Muybridge, the technology of moving images--and, of course, the murder. Muybridge married Flora Downs in 1870, but his photography business took him away for lengthy periods, and Flora, back home, had needs--which she satisfied with Harry Larkyns (whose story Ball also relates), a handsome womanizer whom the jealous husband shot in 1874. Muybridge went on trial, but a sympathetic jury found him not guilty--despite witnesses and his confession. Ball charts Muybridge's subsequent return to favor with Stanford, who hired him to photograph his new San Francisco mansion and who endowed his research into the science of the motion picture. But they eventually fell out (two large egos), and Muybridge tumbled into obscurity after Thomas Edison's technology eclipsed his own. A skillfully written tale of technology and wealth, celebrity and murder and the nativity of today's dominant art and entertainment medium. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 November #1

Asked by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford to help prove that at one point a galloping horse's four hooves leave the ground simultaneously, photographer Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography--the first step on the road to motion pictures. Stanford's continued patronage didn't keep Muybridge from going to trial when he killed his wife's lover. National Book Award winner Ball (Slaves in the Family) leaves the South for a work that combines art, science, true crime, and history-in-the-making in rough-and-tumble Gilded Age San Francisco. Now, that should attract readers.

[Page 56]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #1

Originally scheduled for April 2012, this is the story of how photographer Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography--the first step on the road to motion pictures--when asked by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford to help prove that at one point a galloping horse's four hooves leave the ground simultaneously. He later killed his wife's lover. National Book Award winner Ball combines art, science, true crime, and history-in-the-making in rough-and-tumble Gilded Age San Francisco.

[Page 76]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 March #2

National Book Award winner Ball's (Slaves in the Family) narrative tells two stories about motion-studies photographer Edward Muybridge: his role in an 1874 murder and his work in creating moving pictures. This wonderfully illustrated and well-researched book takes readers on a journey from the photographer's beginnings in England (he was then known as Ted Muggeridge) to his rise to fame once he exhibited moving pictures for the first time. Ball pairs this with the story of Muybridge's benefactor, Leland Stanford, a railroad-magnate millionaire and founder of Stanford University. For this narrative, the ample use of Muybridge's photographs and other contemporary images are especially revealing of the world that the photographer and Stanford inhabited in Gilded Age California, where murder could be justified and defended. Muybridge found greater fame after the murder and subsequent trial--fame that stemmed from his photographic work, not his scandal-ridden personal life. VERDICT This is a story of transformation and of the drive that many 19th-century Americans felt to write their own stories. Recommended for general readers, historical true-crime buffs, and those interested in the history of photography and motion pictures.--Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI

[Page 117]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #1

Uncovering an enigmatic figure whose complicated relationship with a railroad tycoon helped to usher in the proto-motion picture industry, Ball, a National Book Award-winner for 1998's Slaves in the Family, constructs a readable, dual biography rife with ambition, greed, corruption, and murder. Concentrating on each man's ascendance in their respective fields, Ball gracefully guides readers toward the confluence of these two disparate individuals' lives. Leland Stanford, former California governor and president of the Southern Pacific railroad, hired Edward Muybridge, famed photographer and eccentric, to document the former's mansion in Sacramento. However, it was not until 1872, when Muybridge captured Stanford's prized horses in motion (the mogul was interested in whether all four of a horse's legs ever simultaneously left the ground), that their relationship took on any lasting significance. While the author's research and passion for the subject reaffirm Muybridge's place as a pioneer of 19th-century photography and motion pictures, Ball's emphasis on Muybridge's 1874 murder of his wife's lover and his eventual acquittal--brought about by a defense team arranged by Stanford--falls short of scandalous drama. It is a minor default in an otherwise enlightening tale of power, the wedding of art and technology, and tragedy. Photos & illus. Agent: Kris Dahl, International Creative Management. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

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