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Brothers: On His Brothers and Brothers in History
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Brothers: On His Brothers and Brothers in History

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  167 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
From the bestselling National Book Award finalist, a masterful blend of history and memoir featuring the author’s four brothers and iconic brothers in history—the Thoreaus, the Van Goghs, the Kelloggs, the Marx brothers, and the Booths.

George Howe Colt's The Big House is, as the New Yorker said, “full of surprises and contains more than seems possible: a family memoir, a b
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published November 27th 2012 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2012)
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Bree Hobgood
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I originally liked the premise of this book, a study of brotherhood, since I have 2 sons. Ultimately, I disliked the book for two reasons, although I found bits and pieces interesting. I felt that the chapters dedicated to famous brothers were too long and jumped around too much (often citing dozens of other brothers as long tangential side notes). I ended up skipping the last several chapters of this type because I just could not handle them. I liked the early chapters depicting the author and ...more
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was very tempted to give up on this book in the early chapters because it wasn't consistently interesting. The author throws in every anecdote about every famous brother he could find, which makes for a slog. He also throws in so many theories about brotherhood (without footnotes, although there is bibliographic information in an appendix) that they contradict each other. For example, you might first read that the youngest of the family is spoiled and babied, and a few pages later read that th ...more
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biog-and-memoir
George Howe Colt is the second of four brothers, Harry, George, Ned, and Mark. Here he uses accounts of their lives together, with alternating chapters featuring famous brother combinations, to study the dynamics of brotherly relationships. As a child, George adored Harry and wanted to be just like him. Mark is several years younger than the other three, and really only figured as “the baby brother” in the others’ childhoods. They quarreled a lot, and at times were not particularly close to eac ...more
Dec 24, 2012 rated it liked it
George Howe Colt is a talented writer, and he successfully weaves multiple stories about famous brothers together with a memoir of growing up with three brothers of his own to create what I think of as a great source of cocktail party trivia about brothers. There are lots of fun facts about the Booth Brothers, the Van Gogh brothers, the Marx brothers and more that you can drop into casual conversation. The book is well-researched but not particularly insightful. I had the impression that the aut ...more
Ann Putney
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed learning about various bands of brothers in history.
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting and quick read about relationships between (famous) brothers.
David Schwinghammer
BROTHERS by George Howe Colt is an unusual book in that it jumps back and forth between the doings of the four Colt brothers and other celebrity type brothers. Although they're extremely likable, perhaps the Colt segments are too long.

Some of what Colt discovers about brothers in general is old hat. The oldest brother tends to bond with his parents, tends to be more successful, seems more like a little adult. The youngest is more creative and has a tendency to take more chances. The poor guy or
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and well-researched portrait of some remarkable brothers: Edwin & John Wilkes Booth, John & Will Kellogg, Vincent & Theo Van Gogh, John & Henry Thoreau and the wild and crazy five Marx Brothers (Groucho, Zeppo, Chico, Harpo and Gummo.) Colt throws in small bits about other others such as the hoarding Collyer brothers, the Everly Brothers, and the James Brothers (Henry and William and Jesse James and his brother whose name I forgot!) One doesn't have to have had brot ...more
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a rare non-fiction book that held my interest throughout the book, with a couple caveats. I enjoyed reading about family dynamics and how male siblings impact the development of each other.

Here are the caveats: Every other chapter is about the author's own family. The first such chapter was sweet & sentimental. However, as his family ages in later chapters, dysfunction and NY liberal politics invade. I'd highly recommend skipping all the subsequent chapters on the author's family. I
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting idea, nicely executed. The author, one of four brothers, discusses all kinds of issues relating to brothers, including the relationships within his own family, psychological issues relating to brothers, and illustrations using famous brothers in history, such as John Wilkes Booth and his brothers, Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, the Kennedys, and many others. I am the same age as the author, and also am one of four brothers, so some things on the family historical side of the story were e ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is two books in one, with chapters about the complicated relationships of famous brothers in history (to name a few, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, Theo and Vincent Van Gogh, W. K. and John Harvey Kellogg of breakfast food fame), and the life-long story of the author’s complicated relationships with his own brothers. Having read George Howe Colt’s earlier memoir, The Big House, I anticipated a well-written book chock full of interesting information and thoughtful analysis, and was not disapp ...more
Nick Freiling
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book enriched my life in a small but meaningful way. It rambles at points, especially when relating stories of famous brothers through history, but hardly to its detriment. It's a grand work that I think any reader should appreciate -- especially those for whom family is very important. I found reading it to be unexpectedly cathartic -- I am close to my brother but had hardly stopped to consider just how important he is to me, and how powerfully my closeness (and rivalry) with him has shape ...more
Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a fun book! Mr. Colt writes clarity about growing up with his three brothers, and the alternate chapter format (one chapter for his life, one chapter for a famous set of brothers) worked very nicely at keeping the story fresh, lively, and moving. I got this as a Christmas gift from an uncle, and have since given a copy to other family members, but kept my own copy for my library. Some chapters started to drag on at times, but Mr. Colt seemed to know when my attention span and want for detai ...more
I abandoned my plan of drinking my way around the world at the Wursthaus -- too expensive, too bourgeois -- in favor of downing pints of Guinness at the Plow & Stars, a cozy pub whose Irish overtones seemed far more literarily useful, or draining twenty-five-cent drafts at Whitney's, a blue-collar watering hole patronized by solitary middle-aged men whose silence I assumed spoke to oracular wisdom and not a pie-faced stupor as we marinated in the evening light tableau vivant I convinced myse ...more
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
I liked the idea of this book, a memoir of life as one of four brothers alternating with sketches of famous brothers in history. I ended up being disappointed in this book, and didn't get too far before it was (over)due at the library, so I gave up.

In the part I read I didn't feel like the author said much that was new about his own brothers, and found it irritating that he interjected more of his own memories in the historical portion.
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read the six chapters on the Colt brothers. So interesting to hear the perspective of one and then how differently each brother perceives his place and role in the family. Certainly pushed my own thinking on how each sib can have such a different experience and view. Will read the chapters on the more well-known brothers at some point.
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the book. As a mother of two sons, I look at their interactions in an entirely different light, wondering how all their squabbling will end up. The book was very hopeful, indicating that even if brothers are not close or fight a lot as kids, they can still grow to have a close relationship in adulthood. That was reassuring!
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book in part because it describes the relationship among the author's brothers growing up in 1960's, when I was a kid, and the author paints a vivid picture of life as a kid in those days. Of course, the book also describes the relationships of other, more famous brothers from the past, but I found the stories I enjoyed most were those from the author's own life.
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I really enjoyed this book. I'm going to give it to Tim to read this summer. It gave me some good insights into the relationships between my sons, and also between my sisters and myself.

I enjoyed reading the stories of historical sets of brothers, many of which I never knew. But I found especially interesting the sections centered on the author and his own brothers.
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Not an absorbing page turner but still a great read. Anyone from a history buff to a trivia nerd, psych major, or someone's brother or sister will enjoy the mix of family dynamics and storytelling interspersed through this book.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Loved all the stories - about a third of the book is about the Colts, another third his big five: the Booths, Kelloggs, Van Gogh's, Marxes, Thoreaus. The final third was perhaps the most fun - odds and ends of brothers from Adams to Freud.
Frank Ogden
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent memoir written by George Howe Colt about his own brothers. Colt alternates chapters between his story and other Brothers through our history. I learned so much about the Booths, the Kellogg's.
Highly Recommended!!
Feb 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting. He details the stories of the Booth, Kellogg, Marx brothers along with his own family relationships. Most interesting how he dropped in short passages about sibling research and scores of other famous brothers. Slow at times, best read episodically
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
This was a slow starter though I warmed up to the stories and Colt's writing. It is worth a read for the final truths which are delivered about siblings. I enjoyed the recounting of the Kellogg's, the Marx Brothers, the Thoreaus in addition to the stories of the Colt Brothers.
Louise Brown
Jan 03, 2013 marked it as to-read
Rec Good Housekeeping Dec 2012.
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very well written. I really enjoyed the alternating chapters. Colt started off with his brothers , then chose famous brothers e.g. The Kellogg's, Booths, Van Goghs et al. to highlight.
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
I was too distracted by all the interwoven stories and could never find a rhythm to this book.
Nov 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the book very much.
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Liked some parts, others seemed alien to me. Probably due to only having 1 brother and me not being a guy.
Mar 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I am deeply disturbed wondering what the "brother" who recommended this was trying to tell me!
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George Howe Colt is the bestselling author of November of the Soul The Enigma of Suicide and The Big House, which was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times notable book. He is married to the American author Anne Fadiman and lives with his family in Western Massachusetts.
More about George Howe Colt