The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures

Edward Ball. Doubleday, $29.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-385-52575-6
Uncovering an enigmatic figure whose complicated relationship with a railroad tycoon helped to usher in the proto-motion picture industry, Ball, a National Book Award-winner for 1998's Slaves in the Family, constructs a readable, dual biography rife with ambition, greed, corruption, and murder. Concentrating on each man's ascendance in their respective fields, Ball gracefully guides readers toward the confluence of these two disparate individuals' lives. Leland Stanford, former California governor and president of the Southern Pacific railroad, hired Edward Muybridge, famed photographer and eccentric, to document the former's mansion in Sacramento. However, it was not until 1872, when Muybridge captured Stanford's prized horses in motion (the mogul was interested in whether all four of a horse's legs ever simultaneously left the ground), that their relationship took on any lasting significance. While the author's research and passion for the subject reaffirm Muybridge's place as a pioneer of 19th-century photography and motion pictures, Ball's emphasis on Muybridge's 1874 murder of his wife's lover and his eventual acquittal—brought about by a defense team arranged by Stanford—falls short of scandalous drama. It is a minor default in an otherwise enlightening tale of power, the wedding of art and technology, and tragedy. Photos & illus. Agent: Kris Dahl, International Creative Management. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/05/2012
Release date: 01/22/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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