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The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age
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The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age

3.03 of 5 stars 3.03  ·  rating details  ·  174 ratings  ·  24 reviews
Even before he was shot dead on the stairway of the tony Grand Central Hotel in 1872, financier James “Jubilee Jim” Fisk, Jr., was a notorious New York City figure. From his audacious attempt to corner the gold market in 1869 to his battle for control of the geographically crucial Erie Railroad, Fisk was a flamboyant exemplar of a new financial era marked by volatile fortu ...more
Paperback, 206 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Anchor (first published 2011)
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Janet
This is the kind of book that makes a reader pick up the TV remote.

Subtitled A Tragedy of the Gilded Age the only real tragedy is that it resulted in this book. A clumsy retelling of the murder of Jim Fisk, railroad magnate and thug plumped up like a Thanksgiving Butterball with conjecture and hearsay. Josie Mansfield, his discarded mistress, provides color but it is in nonsensical bookended chapters. H.W. Brands took a fairly obscure historical footnote and stretched it over 200 pages - at best
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Zach
Very interesting, concise book about a now, lesser known scandal.

The book not only describes the death of the robber baron Jim Fisk and Fisk's career as a high profile speculator in the gold market and his battles with Cornelius Vanderbilt over the Erie railroad, but also it describes a changed America following the Civil War, much of which stays with us today from economic speculation to the movement from subsistence farming to everything depending on industrialization (panic of 1873 having an
...more
Robert
This is a great book. Whenever an author can transport you to a bygone time and insert you into it, then that is a great start. H.W. Brands is a great historian and this is a great book. He chronicles the murder of Jim Fisk, who was for his time of the richest and most powerful men in the post-civil war United States.

The book is enjoyable, read well, and is well worth anyone's time.
Barb
This scandalous story was told using language common to its time, the 1860's-1870's, which made it less interesting for me than I thought it would be. I do not regret having read it, especially since it's quite short. The most interesting points relate to the power brokers of the time including Vanderbilt.
Todd
I'm not exactly sure what I think of this. On the one hand, it's an interesting story; on the other hand, it's just ... strangely written. Maybe it's just me, but I find it disconcerting to read a history (biography) of events more than 100 years ago written in the present tense. I mean, even today's newspaper covering yesterday's events is written in the past tense. My guess is it's an attempt to convey an air excitement or immediacy to the story, but, to me at least, it's such a strange thing, ...more
Donna
I was drawn to the words New York, tycoons and of course scandal. The cover says New York’s Gilded Age and some of its legendary players, including Boss William Tweed, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the railroad tycoon Jay Gould. Rich people behaving badly. This is a very small little slice of that world. A perfectly enjoyable tidbit for me!

It fascinates me how the various financial markets were manipulated and still are. And even more fascinating how one woman finagled a small fortune.

I am surprised
...more
Andrew Obrigewitsch
And interesting short history story, that shows not much has changed in the last 100 years with the working of the political system and the justice system.
Linda K
Just an ok book showing that the lowly traits of greed, lust and power have always been around and cause people to do bad things. Jim Fisk was a greedy manipulator in New York City in 1868 and ended up murdered by one of the men who he had dealings with. It was more involved due to their both lusting after the same woman. In the end, after 3 trials, Fisk's killer was given only 4 years in prison. Interesting account of courtroom drama and questioning by both sides.
Plantgrrl
This book reads quickly and has a good way of making the storyline flow together as you will find in the best historical narratives (like "Seabiscuit" or "A Perfect Storm"). It does an excellent job of describing the persons involved and their motivations without delving into the quagmire of speculation too much or getting bogged down in the minutia of the case and case laws. Excellent.
Marianne
Interesting -- a somewhat short listen, very well narrated, about a character I knew nothing about and a time I know only vaguely...and more of Great Britain, than New York. It's a profile of the situation and the characters, rather than an in-depth understanding...but I believe it's glimpse into Fisk, and Mansfield, and the other people involved is definitely worth a look.
Rick
I read a lot of history and I have always liked what I've read from H.W. Brands. This book, while interesting in places, seemed like kind of quick "throwaway" for him. Potentially interesting story about some characters on the fringes of history, but in the end there wasn't a lot there. It was a murder mystery actually. Probably wouldn't read it again, but it was ok.
Diana Duncan
Just okay. There was way too much boring descriptions of testimony from the trials and not enough background information, especially on the murderer Stokes. I failed to see anything tragic about the 3 major participants. This did illuminate some of the greed and corruption of the era but I did not get much else out of it.
Reid
This was an entertaining read, a period piece of characters the likes of which America will never see again. I haven't read much on Fisk or most of the Gilded Age players, but Brands frames the context of the story well. The somewhat lavish writing seems to fit the story and characters. Nothing major here but stimulating.
Glenn
Not the sweeping historical epic in style of Erik Larsen, simply because the events, incidents and relationships involved are just not that interesting. Brands lifts far too many large chunks of direct quotations from letters and court records which are so verbose they drag down the narrative.
Jeramey
Really enjoyed it, but I knew who Jim Fisk was going into the book. I would think if you have some vague idea of who he was, you'll enjoy this book. I could have used a bit more on his relationships with Gould, Tweed, Vanderbilt, and Tweed.

Fun quick history read on the Gilded Age in New York.
Alex Robinson
Very quick read which paints and interesting portrait of life in NYC during the period but lacks the depth needed to make it a stand-out read. It reminds me of Rick Geary's excellent TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDERS series of comics, but without the visual flair.
Meg
Was hoping for a narrative history in the vein of Erik Larson, but didn't get it. This was a bit on the drier side. The courtroom proceedings were especially dull. I've heard this wasn't his best work. I might give another one of his books a shot.
Allison
I like the idea of a shorter book about an event mostly lost to history, but for a book about an affair and murder, I had a hard time getting into this book. It is mostly a courtroom drama about characters I didn't care much about.
Nini Villanova
I give it two stars. It was an interesting story, but the lack of citation and sources bothered me to no end.
Katrina
Could have been a lot better. Wasnreally poorly written and for it being only 160 pages, I expected a lot more from it.
Rosemary A.
The best I can say about a "history" book is that it reads like a novel. This one is also a murder mystery.
Carol Taylor
This is a true story so I was very interested to read it. However, it's just not that well-written.
Eileen Lennon
Ok. Nothing I haven't read before.
John
history as an aside.
Jon
Jon added it
Nov 19, 2014
Joe
Joe marked it as to-read
Nov 08, 2014
Misha
Misha marked it as to-read
Nov 07, 2014
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Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen ...more
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