THE MURDER OF JIM FISK FOR THE LOVE OF JOSIE MANSFIELD by H.W. Brands

THE MURDER OF JIM FISK FOR THE LOVE OF JOSIE MANSFIELD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Overlooked Gilded Age crooked financier Jim Fisk receives a compelling historical exhumation.

Intending to highlight “forgotten chapters of American history,” the inaugural volume in the American Portraits Series reanimates the heady histrionics of eccentric stock broker and corporate executive Jim Fisk during his zenith in the mid 19th century. The narrative begins with Fisk’s funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan, lined with mourners both personal and professional. As his girlfriend many years prior, buxom showgirl Josie Mansfield grew weary of the “spectacle” and business cunning that garnered Fisk many lucrative associations, including partnering in 1868 with slick entrepreneur Dan Drew and tycoon Jay Gould, who, altogether, managed to seize control of the Erie Railroad from formidable Wall Street kingpin Cornelius Vanderbilt. Together with duplicitous politician William Tweed, Fisk was already embroiled in lawsuits and Mansfield had fallen for handsome associate Edward Stokes. Wanting his money but not him, she and Stokes attempted blackmail with personal letters incriminating him in illegal mischief. Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, 2010, etc.) takes particular joy in unfolding the high-profile courtroom melodrama in the second half of the book with seemingly verbatim exchange of emotional testimony cresting with the imbroglio of Fisk’s violent murder at Stokes’ hand. The author makes liberal use of photographs, journalistic accounts, summaries of court proceedings and trial transcripts, all offering “blow-by-blow and word-for-word coverage” of the key players. With swift prose and exacting detail, Brands transports readers back in time to an ostentatious era rooted in swift industrialization, avarice and corruption, in which men like Fisk thrived—and ultimately perished.

A wonderfully creative beginning to what promises to be a revitalizing history series.

 

Pub Date: May 31st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-74325-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2011




Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >

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