Books by Nat Brandt

Released: Dec. 3, 1993

Big-city reporter turned small-town journalism prof Mitch Stevens leaves Vermont for deepest Louisiana to wind up the affairs of his late mentor Tom Cantwell—and to continue research on a book Tom had been planning about Major Thomas Clay Washburn, hanged as a spy for his plan to liberate Confederate officers from a northern prison. But somebody doesn't want Mitch to interview one of Tom's informants, old Martha Tour Gale, who knew the slave who went off to war with Washburn: she's as dead as Tom before Mitch gets to see her, and Mitch has to penetrate a screen of casual racism, southern hospitality, and lethal home-cooking to find out what dread secret Tom had pried out of her. That secret, thanks to floods of genealogical detail, is both confusing and all too obvious; by taking Mitch out of the firmly detailed Vermont milieu of his debut (Land Kills, 1991), his creators have thinned out the atmosphere without providing a stronger plot. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1993

A relaxed and engaging portrait of the incomparable chamber- music ensemble (1917-67) and its four most important principals, gracefully interwoven into a history of string-quartet playing in America. Brandt (The Congressman Who Got Away with Murder, 1991, etc.) was connected to the famed Budapest String Quartet during its headiest days: His father-in-law was the violist Boris Kroyt. Brandt's affection for the men who shaped the group's intimately communicative style (Joseph Roisman, first violin; Alexander (``Sasha'') Schneider, second violin; Kroyt; and Mischa Schneider, cello) never constrains his acute observations on the often difficult temperaments of four virtuosi who sublimated their own egos to achieve previously unattained artistic unity. Russian and Polish Jews, Roisman and company fled Hitler's Europe for an uncertain future in America, where chamber music was among the last forms of serious music-making to be accepted. Extraordinary talent prevailed, however, and the Budapest became quartet-in-residence at the Library of Congress, giving an annual series of sold-out (and widely broadcast) recitals using Stradivarius instruments donated to the Library by a wealthy patroness. Among other fascinating sidelights, Brandt illuminates the democratic decision-making procedures the group employed to achieve a concert of musical vision: Contested points of interpretation were put to a vote, with any tie broken by ``the composer's vote'' (cast by the instrumentalist whose predecessor had, with respect to the particular piece in question, won a match-stick drawing and whose initials had been noted on the first page of the score). This neatly written volume appears following Sony's CD rerelease of the early Beethoven quartets recorded in 1951-52 by the same personnel (with the exception of Jac Gorodetsky for Sasha Schneider). Reading the book while listening to the recording reinforces the impression of the Budapest's unanimity of cultural background and creative idealism. As the world that shaped this paragon fades, the legacy remains, thanks to modern technology and this sympathetic record. (Valuable discography and 26 halftones) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 25, 1991

Sex, power, and crime add up to the ultimate tabloid scandal. But the 1990's, with its focus on the alleged misbehavior of the Kennedys, has no monopoly on same, as demonstrated in this entertaining narrative by Brandt, a former editor at American Heritage and Publishers Weekly. As with his two other arrestingly titled works, The Town That Started the Civil War (1990) and The Man Who Tried to Burn New York (1986), Brandt focuses on a sensational incident in the era surrounding the Civil War. In February 1859, disturbed by the revelation of his beautiful wife's adultery, Congressman Daniel Sickles of N.Y.C. fatally shot her lover. The ``Washington Tragedy,'' as it came to be called, gained additional notoriety because of the principals: Victim Philip Barton Key was a notorious philanderer, US District Attorney for the District of Columbia, and son of the composer of ``The Star-Spangled Banner,'' while Sickles was a leading Tammany Hall politician and confidant of President James Buchanan (who, directly and indirectly, sought to influence the trial's outcome). Despite the fact that 12 people witnessed the murder and that Sickles had affairs of his own to account for, Sickles's lawyers (including Abraham Lincoln's future secretary of war, Edwin Stanton) won an acquittal by extensively cataloguing the lovers' indiscreet liaisons and by pleading temporary insanity—the first time such a defense was successfully used. Astonishingly, Washington society lionized the politician following his court victory, only to ostracize him later for forgiving his wife and living with her again. In an all-too-brief postscript, Brandt details Sickles's equally flamboyant postscandal career as a Union general (he made a questionable troop-deployment decision at Gettysburg and lost his leg in the battle). A fascinating case study of the law, capital society, and sexual morality in the mid-Victorian period. (Fourteen b&w illustrations.) Read full book review >
LAND KILLS by Nat Brandt
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

New York City editor Mitch Stevens, brought to Vermont for the summer to relieve his ailing friend Ham Johnson as editor of the Southborough Courier, soon finds himself up to his neck in murder (a real-estate agent, a diabetic professor, a Russian violinist). Behind all three deaths: a few leading citizens' attempts to clear away the obstacles from a proposed ski resort and retail outlet. One of these citizens is the Courier's publisher, and the most entertaining scenes in this first novel show Mitch laboring to do his job without destroying the newspaper or the town. Not much mystery, despite all those murders, though the pointed small-town editing vignettes are bound to enliven the promised series. Read full book review >