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BROTHERS by George Howe Colt


On His Brothers and Brothers in History

by George Howe Colt

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4777-8
Publisher: Scribner

An often entertaining but ultimately unproductive rumination on brotherhood.

Brothers are expected to be close to and supportive of one another, but brotherhood is complex, often difficult and sometimes violent, as Colt (Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, 2004, etc.) demonstrates in this personal and historical narrative. The second of four brothers, the author perceptively explores his fraught relationships with them—the competitiveness and conflicts, the yearning for a closeness that would not come until several decades had passed—in the context of an often wistful memoir of a generally unremarkable American family in the 1950s and ’60s. Interleaved within his personal story are diverting and lively biographies of other brothers, presenting widely varying examples of brotherly interaction: John and Will Kellogg of cereal fame, who spent much of their adult lives suing each other; Theo van Gogh, supporting (or enabling) his insufferable brother Vincent; the "good" and "bad" brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth; the five Marx brothers; and many more. While citing the occasional psychologist, Colt wisely goes easy on the scholarly theory and largely permits the brothers' histories to speak for themselves about the tensions that bedevil even the closest of siblings. He struggles to understand why his relationships with his brothers were so difficult for so long, perhaps presenting the other biographies so that he might look to other brothers' examples to help him make sense of his own family history. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether it helped, or if so, how.

Includes some illuminating bits but has the feel of two different books uncomfortably fitted together—much the way brothers often feel about each other.