Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Alienist

This is not Tuesday and I'm not writing ten things. At least I'm getting a post in, though!

This book was a best seller ages ago, but I only got to reading it this last summer. It's setting is New York City, 1896 putting it comfortably in the Victorian period. I imagine many people have already read it, so I won't go into a long summary. Besides you can find them all over the web. Basically it's a book about a Victorian serial killer in New York City. The main characters of the book are trying to hunt down and catch the killer using profiling techniques used today--only they haven't been invented yet. Enter a psychiatrist (an alienist they were called back then, so we are told) who introduces the team to his thoughts on the workings of the human brain. That's it in a nutshell and if you're interested in this sort of thing, like I am, it is absolutely fascinating. If not, you may find parts of it a little draggy.

My point mentioning it on the blog, however, is of course the Victorian aspect. Caleb Carr is a historian, and brings the flavor and setting of the period to life, vividly. When reading the book you are walking down the streets of New York in the 1890's. Some of what I've posted on this blog--a discussion of Delmonico's and Jesse Pomeroy--is in this book. Of course I loved that. Some of the history I wasn't 100% certain about--I'm taking his word for it. I wasn't particularly pleased with his view of Boston in the 19th century either, but I could be a little biased, coming from that area as I do.

Of course these people are "regular" people for the most part. We aren't talking about Society or balls and such, which is what I tend to like to write about. This is the nitty gritty kind of background, delving into New York City gangs, prostitution and Five Points (which I knew nothing about before reading this). Since it's late in the era there are telephones and other conveniences, most of which aren't really found in many cities until the 20th century. Regardless, if you want to know what this city was like--and I suspect a few other Eastern cities at the time, this is a wonderful book to get the feel.

Anyone else read any good Victorian books lately?

1 comment:

Susan Macatee said...

Sounds like a fascinating book, Dee!
Thanks for sharing.