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

Edward Ball’s The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and The Birth of Moving Pictures was another disappointing book to me. Not as disappointing as Last Words From Montmartre, but pretty disappointing all the same.

It wasn’t the quality of the information presented – it was interesting in that I learned a lot about the history of how moving pictures came to be. But this wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be.

One of my biggest issues with this book was that the title was really misleading. The inventor (Eadweard Muybridge, spelled by the man himself in several different places), the tycoon (Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University), the murder, and the moving pictures had what felt like almost nothing to do with each other. The guy who invented motion pictures murdered another guy who had an affair with his wife. He also kind of knew the tycoon who used his invention and who largely ripped him off but with whom he also worked on some small projects. For example: does a horse’s four hooves leave the ground at the same time while running? Together, they solved this mystery.

There was also a lot of jumping around in time. The author jumped around in location and year and I thought he was going to bring the two things together at some kind of intersectional point. As I said, the two men barely had anything to do with each other, only met a few times, and the inventor spent most of his life trying to get money out of the tycoon, but not even consistently. It was almost like it didn’t matter.

The murder wasn’t even that interesting. Older man marries a younger woman and goes away a lot, ignoring her, and leaving her alone. She has an affair, and the husband kills the boyfriend. HOW SHOCKING. I do have to admit, it was impressive how nonchalant Muybridge was about it. Got up, went looking for the boyfriend, calmly, shot him, turned himself in calmly, etc… all very matter of fact.

But overall, I just wasn’t much impressed by  The Inventor and The Tycoon. It just wasn’t coherent or interesting or connected enough to justify writing a whole book about it. It could have a been a chapter in either of their biographies, but a whole book? Nah. 

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