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Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  1,370 Ratings  ·  309 Reviews
Tracing the genesis of a masterpiece, a Fitzgerald scholar follows the novelist as he begins work on The Great Gatsby.   The autumn of 1922 found F. Scott Fitzgerald at the height of his fame, days from turning twenty-six years old, and returning to New York for the publication of his fourth book, Tales of the Jazz Age. A spokesman for America’s carefree younger generation ...more
Hardcover, 399 pages
Published January 23rd 2014 by Penguin Press (first published June 6th 2013)
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Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell is a 2014 Penguin Press publication.

This book was promoted, via a recent newsletter I subscribe to, as a ‘True Crime’ must read. So, after reading the synopsis, I checked it out of the library.

How was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” connected to a double homicide in the 1920’s?

The Mills- Hall murders in New Jersey, committed in 1922 was touted as the crime of the decade. An Episcopal Priest and
Jul 28, 2013 Nigie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've gotta say I ate this book up. As a fan of Scott Fitzgerald and his seemingly unfilmable masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, I couldn't get enough of this account of its creation. It opens in the autumn of 1922 when Fizgerald and his wife Zelda return to New York from the midwest after the birth of their daughter, Scotty (who they leave behind for a full twelve months!), and conjectures initially on the influences on the young author during the year in which he set his greatest novel, though he w ...more
Since the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925, it has been talked and talked about. Some people were forced to read it in high school, some hate it and others love it. No matter what you think about the book you can’t deny its significance. Careless People looks at The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald and what was happening during the Jazz era. More specifically the months when this classic too place.

I loved The Great Gatsby, the first time I read it I got little out of it (see review) but
Diane S ☔
Feb 18, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
3.5. The nineteen twenties were a very interesting period in history and what made Fitzgerald so fascinating is that his novels documented this period, the Jazz age, perfectly. A fascinating look at this time, of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, their opulent lifestyle, his struggles to keep writing amidst the constant partying and drinking. Churchwell does a wonderful job bringing this period to light as well as showing the reader a couple in constant flux. Their is a double thread to this book, as ...more
May 15, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Great Gatsby" was first published in 1925, but Fitzgerald set the novel in 1922, when he and Zelda returned to New York. Fitzgerald was planning his new novel and he wanted to do something different - it would take him two years to finish Gatsby and, in a way, this is a biography of a novel. For, in this book, the author cleverly takes us through the time that Scott and Zelda spent in New York - the events that influenced him and the eighteen months he spent in Great Neck, just outside the ...more
I had to give up with this one in the end. I tried several times to reconnect with the thread of this book, and while it was interesting reading about the unsolved double murder that occured in 1922 that Fitzgerald may have referenced while writing 'The Great Gatsby', and the insanely selfish and giroscopic existance of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that definetly DID get included in the same novel, but it was so chop and change I lost my connection with the book after just over 200 pages.
Frankly -
David Lentz
Jan 17, 2015 David Lentz rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I avidly admire the writing of Fitzgerald in his American anthem, "The Great Gatsby." Henry Miller once advised that he only found his voice after becoming annihilated in New York and Paris, and began to write unabashedly about his own life in a deeper, mindful way. Fitzgerald's "Gatsby" is about his own life, nearly entirely with fictional proxies for the people he knew and most of all, Zelda. They were a fascinating couple from the outset living among the "top 1%" ...more
Aug 20, 2013 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Following my recent re-read of The Great Gatsby this newly published book – which is really the biography of that novel – was crying out to me. I have been spectacularly bad at reading non-fiction this year – even worse than I usually am. However I found this book to be totally compelling, well written, superbly well researched and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In Careless People Sarah Churchwell makes a detailed examination particularly of the autumn of 1922 – what was happening in Ame
Karin Slaughter
Feb 26, 2014 Karin Slaughter rated it really liked it
Thought it was good, but got a little bogged down in the middle. Most startling part was Fitzgerald's last royalty check: $7.12 No wonder he drank!
Jun 30, 2015 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love The Great Gatsby and have read it many times over the years, so the title of this book grabbed me immediately. I expected from this that the whole book would focus on the composition of 'Gatsby', but this isn't really the case. It's more of a mini-biography of Scott Fitzgerald, confusingly inter-cut with details of a murder case which appears to have little relevance to him or his book.

I think the Hall-Mills case is interesting in its own right, and I'd like to read a book about it, but
Joan Colby
Oct 09, 2014 Joan Colby rated it did not like it
The attempt to link Fitzgerald’s creation of Gatsby to the sensational 1922 Hall-Mills murder case, as well as classics such as The Satyricon, pointless lists of Jazz Age slang, familiar Scott-Zelda anecdotes and so forth results in a hodge-podge that is neither enlightening nor interesting. I confess to not being an admirer of the overrated Gatsby,much less his author. Churchill dolls up her tale with every 20’s reference she can think of: Wall Street, Long Island society, the Guggenheim mansio ...more
Feb 07, 2017 Janet rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Slow reading but absolutely fascinating. I wish I had read this before I read Gatsby so many years ago. (Of course, it wasn't written then.) Interesting the interplay between the Hall-Mills murder, the sociology of the time, and Fitzgerald's writing. And my favorite part: In 1923, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story that he developed into a play, a political satire about a man who dreams of being a postman but is nagged by his wife to be something more. He meets a bootlegger and drinks some ...more
Paul Brannan
Feb 15, 2014 Paul Brannan rated it it was ok
This scholarly book makes intriguing new connections between the people and personalities from Fitzgerald's booze-fuelled milieu and the cast of characters who inhabit his work.

From a time of loose morals and abundant excess there are episodes that, even today, would create scandal. Fitz's wife Zelda strips off in public at the drop of a hat, dances naked on nightclub tables, chases the teenage brother of a party host upstairs for sex - it's outrageous and it’s a tabloid dream.

There's so much ma
May 03, 2015 Nigeyb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you love "The Great Gatsby" - and what right thinking person doesn’t? - then you will almost certainly love "Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby" by Sarah Churchwell.

Beautifully written, Sarah Churchwell skilfully illuminates the lives and times of Scott and Zelda, and Scott's creative process. A beguiling mix of biography, history, letters, headlines from the era, including the then infamous Hall and Mills murder case, mixed together to create a wonderful in
Jan C
★★★ 1\2.

Churchwell's book takes its title from one of The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway's lines when he referred to his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan, as "careless people". They blithely sail through life, causing disaster right and left and leaving others to pick up the pieces. She alternates discussions about the book Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds, and a popular murder case of 1922, the Hall-Mills murders - a rector and his married lady friend having a lover's tryst. This was apparently
Aug 04, 2014 Peggy rated it did not like it
Well-researched but badly written and poorly organized. Sentences like this one abound: "Past the ash heaps, looming like a corner of the Inferno beside Long Island Rail Road, emerging from the clinging grime, through the dry, fallow fields dotted with occasional white-frame Victorian farmhouses, past the outpost of an isolated garage planted along the side of the two-lane road, a red gas pump sprouting in front of it, they drove four miles north of where Charles Cary Rumsey had been killed in a ...more
Lisa Mcbroom
Jan 28, 2014 Lisa Mcbroom rated it it was amazing
Churchill takes the lives of F.Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda, the writing of the classic The Great Gatsby and the new Jersey murder that took the nation by storm. For fans of the 1920's and The Great Gatsby . Well written!
Mar 31, 2017 Bandit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I continue to overestimate my enthusiasm for 1920s, most likely due to my SO's fascination with that era. But my enthusiasm for The Great Gatsby is genuine, it is a bonafide great American novel. And not of the jingoistic blindly patriotic variety either, but an intelligent well crafted study of the Emersonian dream of a self made man crash and burn against the carelessness of the blatantly wealthy. Last line of Gatsby...So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the p ...more
Oct 29, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

Careless People is a well researched look at the jazz age as experienced by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their contemporaries. The author theorizes that the events and people Fitzgerald experienced in 1922 and beyond, before the publication of the book in 1925, shaped the plot and characters. In particular, the author thinks the Hall – Mills unsolved double murder was the basis for the murder in Gatsby.

The book also detail
Nov 22, 2013 Amber rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
3.75 stars. Overall a fairly decent look into the Jazz Age and the works and life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book is well researched, with the social and historical implications of the period covered in interesting detail.

This book is also a work of literary criticism, and as such reviews of his books, symbols and themes are given meaning beyond mere words. However, the meanings are up for criticism, depending on your skill with symbology (I'm a dunce there) and your awareness of Fitzgerald's l
Oct 21, 2013 ☕Laura rated it really liked it
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were a fascinating couple, and the nineteen-twenties a fascinating time. This book really brought to life the spirit of the world in which they were living and the ways in which their lives mirrored the exhilaration and the tragedy of Jay Gatsby's story. The book appears to be very well-researched with regard to the Fitzgeralds and The Great Gatsby, providing many excerpts from letters and journals that helped to make the subjects feel very real. At times, however, I f ...more
Rebecca Foster
Jazz-Age New York dazzles in this tour through F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s lives and the inspirations behind The Great Gatsby. It’s an essential guide to understanding that master work of “nostalgic glamour: lost hope, lost possibility, lost paradise.”

The best chapters zoom in on Gatsby’s setting, September-December 1922, which also saw the Fitzgeralds’ return to New York from the Midwest. The nation was gripped by the Hall-Mills case, an unsolved double murder that undoubtedly piqued Fitzg
Lauren Albert
Evocative. About Fitzgerald, about the novel, about the times. Churchwell weaves throughout the book the story of unsolved (and poorly investigated, to say the least) murders that happened in 1922. Without oversimplifying the relationship, Churchwell shows how the murders are part of what Fitzgerald absorbed and used in the writing of the Great Gatsby. If you love the novel, as I do, or love the time period, you'll probably like this book.
Nicholas Lapp
Mar 06, 2014 Nicholas Lapp rated it it was ok
It's interesting, it's long, it would work remarkably well read in conjunction with, or immediately after reading The Great Gatsby - but it just didn't pull me in. I wanted to read it so I slogged through the whole thing and there were some very interesting facts; your 'take' on the Gatsby will change once you realize how much of it is adapted from current events and people and places he knew. Just a bit dry, almost read like an extended book report.
Terri Jacobson
This book gives the history of the year 1922, the year in which F. Scott Fitzgerald set his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. It was quite interesting to read both about the news items and social activities of that year, and also about what Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were doing in their personal lives. The book provides an interesting companion to Gatsby.
Look, I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I went to the same high school that F. Scott Fitzgerald went to (until he was kicked out and went out east for his education, that is). Hell, I was in a play that our high school put on for a Fitzgerald Convention that came to town back in the day. So I grew up in an environment that had a lot of feelings about Fitzgerald. But oddly enough, I didn't read THE GREAT GATSBY until a couple years ago, which is good because I could just enjoy it on my own wi ...more
Dec 06, 2015 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language-books
I enjoyed the book for the detailed analysis of The Great Gatsby, even though I began to realize about a quarter into the book that I would have done well to reread TGG before starting this book. The details of Scott and Zelda's early years together continue to enchant and/or shock. The parties! The glitter and the glamour! The speakeasys ! The author did a good job of uncovering some new information from the Fitzgeralds' clipping book (or at least, it was presented as new - I am not enough of a ...more
Roman Clodia
Jun 25, 2016 Roman Clodia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting read but it's perhaps trying to do too many things at once which serve to detract from, rather than strengthen, its import and impact. Churchwell is writing a biography of the Fitzgeralds, especially during the year of 1922 when the Great Gatsby was set, even though it wasn't written and completed until a few years later. She is also offering interpretations and readings of the novel itself, alongside contextual information on e.g. prohibition, the gangster-crooks who buil ...more
Erika Robuck
Feb 28, 2014 Erika Robuck rated it it was amazing
Imagine Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reading the morning newspaper while nursing their hangovers, and discussing the sordid murder of a pastor and his parishioner. See how Scott sharpens his capacities to exist both “within and without” of his life–judging others and himself for their behavior, but powerless or unwilling to stop it. Experience the delicious words of Zelda adding color to the text and settling into the subconscious of her husband. Understand the fascinating workings of a national m ...more
Eugenia (Genie In A Book)
Sep 16, 2013 Eugenia (Genie In A Book) rated it liked it
Shelves: edelweiss
I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No compensation was given and this does not in any way affect my views on the book.

Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

I don't usually spend my time reading non-fiction novels like this, although to see one that even mentioned 'The Great Gatsby', I immediately felt drawn to read it and give it a try. This book definitely is very detailed, outlining every aspect of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda's lives, their friends and the spar
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“Fitzgerald could sense that America was poised on the edge of a vast transformation, and wrote a novel bridging his moment and ours. The Great Gatsby made manifest precisely what Fitzgerald’s contemporaries couldn’t bear to see, and thus it is not only the Jazz Age novel par excellence, but also the harbinger of its decline and fall.” 4 likes
“Art cannot, perhaps, impose order on life—but it teaches us to admire even the unruliest of revelations.” 3 likes
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