Benjamin Thomas's Reviews > The Carpetbaggers

The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins
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Sep 02, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in July, 2009

I always know a book is a fun read when I find myself making excuses to read it rather than work on my "Hunny-Do" list. According to at least one source this book is the 4th most read novel of all time. I don't know if that's really true but certainly it has been a widely read story for more than 40 years so obviously a lot of people have read it. The book apparently is somewhat notorious, largely for pushing the sexual boundaries of the time, right up to the edge. By today's standards it is relatively tame and, in fact, most of the sexual scenes occur offstage although there is a lot of innuendo. The book is fairly long; my paperback is almost 700 pages long with pretty small print.

The main story takes place over a 20 year period between the World Wars. The main character is a Howard Hughes type tycoon named Jonas Cord with all sorts of business interests but most especially aircraft development and Hollywood pictures. His is mostly a tragic story up until the very end when he finally realizes what makes him happy. It is interesting to note that Harold Robbins knew Howard Hughes fairly well but despite so many similarities to Hughes, Robbins claims the model for the Jonas Cord character was actually Bill Lear (developer of the Lear jet and the 8-track tape player). The backdrop for the novel is absorbing as well; we get to see the roaring 20s, the depression era 30's, the lead up to World War II as well as the war itself; all major impacts on the plot.

The intriguing thing about this book is not so much the story but rather, how the story is told. It is divided into eight sections: four sections are Jonas Cord's life told in his own first person point of view and the other four sections are devoted to the backstories of four key people who Jonas interacts with during his life. One is a former gunfighter turned stuntman turned star of the silent movie era. One is a Hollywood actress (allegedly based on Jean Harlow). A third is a movie company executive and a fourth is a high-priced courtesan turned movie starlet. We get absorbed in their individual stories; they are very captivating all on their own. And it is really through them that we come to know Jonas himself. When you put the whole thing together you really get a great sense of the characters as well as the era itself. I have to say I really enjoyed the novel a lot more than I expected I would.
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