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Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  674 ratings  ·  158 reviews
Long before the specter of terrorism haunted the public imagination, a serial bomber stalked the streets of 1950s New York. The race to catch him would give birth to a new science called criminal profiling.

Grand Central, Penn Station, Radio City Music Hall―for almost two decades, no place was safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters “FP” and left his lethal devic
Hardcover, 289 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Minotaur Books
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3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  674 ratings  ·  158 reviews

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“Chances are he will be wearing a double-breasted suit. Buttoned.” - Dr. James A. Brussel

Over sixty years ago, the psychiatrist, Dr. James Arnold Brussel is one of the people credited with catching the “Mad Bomber” in NYC. This is the case that is handed down to people who are starting their careers as criminal profilers to study for their training. Former New York Times reporter and editor, Michael Cannell has written a great read about the manhunt for the bomber.

The “Mad Bomber” set off his
An amazing journey into the search for a bomber, Incendiary has impeccable sources and details that make you part of the hunt. Michael Cannell's skills for building the tension made me feel frustrated along with the bomb squad and officials, scared as the residents must have felt, and confused how someone could be so twisted. Full Disclosure: I was allowed to read a copy of this book for free as a member of NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The opinions I have expressed are my own an ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-truecrime
How much do you like to know about a book before you start it? The answer may tell you something significant, but not necessarily flattering, about yourself, like some kind of marshmallow test for the type of adults who feel about books like children feel about marshmallows.

I consistently fail this marshmallow test for adults. For example, when reading William Gibson, I cannot sit by and wait for the author-created argot of the future to make itself clear by inference after repeated use, because
In Incendiary, author Michael Cannell takes a long, detailed, highly readable look at the Mad Bomber; the police who investigated the case; the psychiatrist who created such an accurate profile of the bomber that he appeared to be psychic; the newspapers that covered the bombings; and the bomber's dedicated defense lawyer. George Metesky was definitely mad, both in his mind and in his feelings for Consolidated Edison, the company he felt ruined his life. For 16 years, he planted bombs in various ...more
M- S__
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, netgalley
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for feedback and review.

This book is great. Definite shades of Lawrence Wright. Cannell really expertly weaves the facts and reporting of the case of the Mad Bomber into an easy to follow narrative. I really appreciated how many perspectives you get: from the newspapers to the police to the profiling psychiatrist.

I was attracted to this book because I didn't really know the story of the Mad Bomber, and this was about as comprehensive a look at him
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it
INCENDIARY. (2017). Michael Cannell. ***.
The revisit to the story of the “mad bomber” of the 1950s was OK. What ultimately led to my skimming of much of it was the author’s style. How would I best describe it? How about like a compendium of Batman and Robin adventures. The characters talked as if they had balloons over their heads. As an introduction to the art of criminal profiling, it was hokey. Dr. Brussel, the alleged inventor of profiling, would be amused to re-read his words as put down in
Patricia Ann
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I found the book interesting AND disappointing. I appreciated and enjoyed the historic aspect . I wondered even more about the role of Con Ed in the development of the Mad Bomber's pathology. However, the "explanation" of the development of profiling by Dr. Brussel was lacking. He apparently did his "profiling" by intuitive methods based on outdated and invalid psychoanalytic dogma and some good guessing. Profiling today is based on statistical probabilities yet can be so much in error when some ...more
D.J. Adamson
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Michaell Cannell’s work Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling offers not only a turn paging thriller, explosive to the nerves and senses, but it gives the reader a comprehensive look into how forensic profiling began as a research tool in understanding the criminal, the act, and the apprehension. While crime writers will find this work both entertaining and fascinating, others who enjoy thrillers, mysteries, television show such as NCIS and Criminal ...more
Advance copy courtesy Minotaur/St. Martin's Press via the Amazon Vine program

These days, with a steady flow of news and fiction, it would be easy to take the concept of criminal profiling for granted.

Just how much a shame that would be is apparent within the first few chapters of Incendiary. Michael Cannell transports readers to Manhattan in the 1950s, where residents and police are increasingly concerned about a rash of bombs that have caused injuries and damage, but no deaths ... yet.

Police g
Katie/Doing Dewey
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me a lot of Erik Larson. It wasn’t a dual narrative, but it was about a killer and it was very engaging. I couldn’t put it down. The author did a great job focusing on the people involved in this story. He really brought them to life. He also gave just enough details about different people and places to create vivid images without bogging down the story. My one small complaint is that (like Erik Larson) he makes up a few scenes or thoughts only the murderer was aware of. Fortu ...more
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, 2017-books
Very interesting look at the Mad Bomber of New York. This is a part of history that I had no knowledge of, so it was quite intriguing. It's hard to imagine that there was a time when criminal profiling didn't exist, now that it's so commonplace!

Content: This book does have some gory crime details (not a lot, but there were some parts that I totally could have done without).
Randal White
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at the beginning of criminal profiling. Told through the story of the “Mad Bomber”, who terrorized New York through the 1940-1950’s. I had a hard time putting this one down!
Auderoy Lin
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it

Schizophrenics follow their own logic. We just don’t understand it.

How does one apprehend the wits of a madman?

He looked unremarkable in every way, as if life had failed to make a distinguishing mark on him.

He was content in the company of bombs, despite the harrowing possibilities. If anything, he was too brave.

Incendiary power had not been his main goal. He was not trying to kill people, not yet anyway. He was simply trying to make a point.

Instead of starting with a known personalit
Incendiary is the story of the search for the "Mad Bomber", a terrorist who eluded the New York City police for 16+ years. The bomber chose public spaces like theatres, libraries, and train stations through the City in the 1940s/1950s.

This case was one of the very first where law enforcement teamed up with a psychiatrist to form a criminal profile, learning more about the man who terrorized the city and maimed dozens of people.

I knew little of this case, and while the book and writing ventured
Andrew Benesh
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Incendiary is a unique book that chronicles the Mad Bomber of New York and the various police, psychiatrists, journalists, and judges who ultimately brought his 16 year campaign of domestic bombings to an end. The book explores the story from the first bomb being set to the bomber's eventual demise in extreme detail. This is both the main fascination the book provides, and my chief complaint.

Michael Cannell provides a level of depth and detail that goes beyond what most historical crime novels a
For a brief period of time when I was getting my psychology degree in college, I wanted to be a criminal profiler. I'm sure that I was mostly spurred on by the romanticism of the field thanks to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and shows like CRIMINAL MINDS. Eventually I realized that psychology wasn't really for me as a career, but I'm still super intrigued by the concept of profiling and the psychology of criminals. So of COURSE I was interested in the book INCENDIARY by Michael Cannell, as it talks a ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I round 4.5 stars up to 5.

As a testament to this book's depth (and my lack of an ability to remember things), I had read an article in the weeks previous to getting this audiobook, that was in hindsight probably a short article to market the book. The main (perhaps only) thing I remembered from that article was the use of a very quirky timing "device" in the bombs used. I spent many of the first hours of this book wondering if it was the same madman. Sure I was pretty clued into the likelihood i
Why has everyone forgotten about the Mad Bomber? He planted dozens and dozens of bombs all about New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s (although as a patriotic American--and a vet himself--he paused for WWII) from Grand Central Station to the New York Public Library to Radio City Music Hall. It's amazing how much of history is lost to the wind until an enterprising author puts pen to paper.

This bomber was truly outwitting the NYPD, even though he made calls and sent notes about his bomb
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Somewhere between a 3 and a 4 for me. It is an engrossing subject - the police investigation of a serial bomber who terrorized New York for years in the mid-20th century. Eventually in desperation the police seek the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose criminal profile of the perpetrator proved to be uncannily accurate. For some reason the narrative kept jumping back and forth in time (Are still we in 1954 or did we somehow end up back in 1953 again?) and on occasion Cannell's prose ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Masterfully written. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about getting back to reading it.
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author cites Thomas Harris books and TV shows like Criminal Minds and Law and Order as being based on profiling. That's true and if you like that genre, this is where it started!
Jay Heinrichs
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The most enjoyable way imaginable to learn about New York—and America—in the fifties. Meanwhile, you learn about history’s first serial bomber and the birth of the modern detective.

This page-turning work of nonfiction would make a superb Hollywood movie if only it had more gore. Total beach-read stuff.

Disclaimer: Michael Cannell is a friend. But I rarely rave about friends’ books as much as I’m raving to friends about this one.
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In Incendiary, author Michael Cannell manages to encapsulate a time period when police work was beginning to merge with science and was galvanized into further considering the psychological component of repeat offenders through the terror caused by one man. The Mad Bomber of New York, as the newspapers dubbed him, had set off over thirty bombs and his chilling choice of highly public venues like movie theaters and train stations added another level of terror. Signing any communications he made ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Felt immediately swept up and transported to another time and place. Engaging, suspenseful, well paced. Bravo.
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Incendiary' looks at the beginning of criminal profiling and the individuals who helped develop the field. Cannell writes engagingly and with verve; his style is journalistic and almost reads like a novel with the colourful character sketches. Definitely worth reading, particularly for anyone interested in psychology or mid 20th century New York.
Schuyler Wallace
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Michael Cannell’s “Incendiary” is a magnificent example of inexhaustible research spawning a great nonfiction book. His story of a psychotic bomber, an eccentric psychiatrist, and the genesis of modern profiling will linger in the reader’s mind long after the reading ends. The cites for his information are extensive.

The Mad Bomber had successfully terrified NYC residents and baffled the city’s police force for almost twenty years. Pipe bombs had been secreted in venues such as Grand Central and
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is the history of criminal profiling in America and how it became an art form. Who knew that the art of criminal profiling came from 3 men working together to try to identify a serial bomber in NYC, in the 1950's? In the 1950's, in NYC, a mad man was setting off bombs in public places such as movie theatres, train stations and libraries. At that time there was no such thing as criminal profiling and the NYPD didn't have the skills necessary to identify the bomber, or more importantly, ...more
D Andrews
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
An entertaining and informative read about the first criminal investigation to involve psychological profiling. New York City detectives reach out to psychiatrist Dr. James Brussel to help track down the Mad Bomber in the 1950's. The book reads much like the newspaper The Journal American that plays a crucial role in unmasking the bomber. From the time of terrorized NYC through the capture of the bomber, the book ends with a very satisfying denouement that describes the later career of Dr. Bruss ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was okay. Very little of it seemed to focus on criminal profiling, which was disappointing to me. I think this is something I would have rather read an article than a full-length book, because while the writing was good, I just wasn't interested enough in the Mad Bomber case to read this many pages on it. A fine enough book, just not to my tastes.
Erica Strand
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
I know people love this book, but I just couldn't get into it. It's a decidedly old white dude story & I couldn't relate.
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Michael Cannell is the author of three non-fiction books: "Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling"; "The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit" and "I.M Pei: Mandarin of Modernism." Michael edited the House & Home section of The New York Times for seven years. He has contributed to The New Yorker, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and man ...more