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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I wanted to kill him with a brick"
I first read this book when it originally came out. I was in high school and like many teenagers I was prepared to see parents as the source of most teenage troubles. After reading this book, I promptly wrote my parents a nice letter about what swell people they were. I was that grateful not to have had Brooks and Barbara Baekeland for parents.

This is the rare...
Published on April 29, 2008 by MJS

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Savage Grace
I got caught up in the story and letters concerning the Baekeland's dysfunctional (that word is much too lenient) family .... goes to show crazy and depravity can be in any family no matter how much money they have.

The one MAJOR negative I had concerning the book was that all the characters should have been listed in front of the book instead of in the back...
Published on May 18, 2011 by zelda555


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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I wanted to kill him with a brick", April 29, 2008
By 
MJS "Constant Reader" (New York, United States) - See all my reviews
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I first read this book when it originally came out. I was in high school and like many teenagers I was prepared to see parents as the source of most teenage troubles. After reading this book, I promptly wrote my parents a nice letter about what swell people they were. I was that grateful not to have had Brooks and Barbara Baekeland for parents.

This is the rare book that proved even better than I remembered when I reread it last month. It starts with the murder of Barbara Baekeland by her son then goes back in time to beginnings of the Baekeland fortune through the passionate but ill-fated marriage of Brooks and Barbara until it catches up with the murder and the sad denouement of Tony's life. As one reviewer here has noted, this is not a traditional narrative but an oral history. The transcripts of interviews are presented without comment - very much like Jean Stein's great Edie and Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil - and the speakers reveal far more about themselves than any narrative could.

If there is a villain in this story, for me it wasn't Tony Baekeland, who clearly suffered from serious mental illness but his father Brooks Baekeland. Rarely have I come across a character in fiction or nonfiction who made me want to slap him so hard or so often. Early on one former friend of the Baekelands' talks about wanting to kill Brooks in the street with a brick. By the end of the book you may, like me, find this to be a perfectly reasonable response because Brooks is a piece of work. In fact, he's a complete jerk. If I'd been Tony's lawyer I'd have used the fact that Tony had the opportunity to kill his father yet didn't as Exhibit A in the fact that Tony was insane. Whether he's yammering on about how much he was like his brilliant grandfather, complaining about the fact that Tony couldn't stick with anything (this from a writer who only managed to write one short story and didn't finish his PhD!) or basically abandoning Tony after he's released from Broadmoor, Brooks Baekeland is a loathsome individual. His blatant homophobia and sheer lack of compassion will take your breath away. Other characters come across as clueless or careless but Brooks is downright diabolical in his self-absorption.

As an evocation of a time, a certain type of ultra-privileged couple (the sort with artistic pretensions but little talent or commitment) and a mind boggling selfishness, Savage Grace is a book to read and reread. It's suited for True Crime and biography fans. As noted, if you don't like oral histories you probably won't like it - there is very little narrative holding the interviews together. When the author wants to describe Riker's Island, she presents her description as an interview, for example. If you enjoy hearing the story from the mouths of those who lived it, Savage Grace is a book you won't soon forget.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing tale of mother love and excess, January 11, 2008
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I enjoy true crime tales, especially those that take place among the "beautiful people." Here you have the disintegration of the Baekeland family through the generations. Grandfather created Bake-Lite and made a fortune; son spent it on National Geographic travels. His beautiful wife focused on constant social climbing from her very plebian roots and practiced a twisted "smother love" on their child...and the two spent a great deal of time and energy fighting (sometimes physically) with one another...a real love-hate relationship. Their only son ends up a talented, bright but deeply disturbed young man who commits one murder and attempts to kill a second person - both of whom happen to be family members. I found the book, which compiles letters to and from the featured players along with interviews with many members, friends and aquaintances, very hard to put down. A chilling true story.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ALL-TIME CLASSIC OF THE TRUE CRIME GENRE, March 13, 2008
An industrious European peasant immigrates to America at the end of the 19th century, invents plastic, becomes a gazillionaire and leaves his heirs a terrible lot of money. A couple of generations later, the fortune begets Brooks Baekeland, a wannabe-genius writer/adventurer/snob, who "marries down" when he makes middle-class Barbara Daly his wife. Barbara's extraordinary beauty is her ticket into the exclusive terrarium of the super-rich. She embraces social and talent-climbing like a religion and, together with Brooks, lives a loud, indulgent, hedonistic life without parameters. Their tempestuous marriage produces one child, Tony, who grows up to eclipse his father in terms of raw talent and then, later, to stab his mother to death with a kitchen knife in a London flat.

Theme-wise, this book has everything - trashy money, smothering mothers, hyper-competitive fathers and sons, closeted homosexuality, sexual thrill-seeking, jet-setting, incest, murder and madness - it's Dominick Dunne meets Oresteia. It's the greatest book you'll ever take to the beach. It's the book that keeps you up all night. It's one of the most scandalous, salacious stories ever told - and it's all true. But the real accomplishment of the book is the format. In lieu of the straightforward black and white factual narration of most true crime books, Steven M. L. Aronson and Natalie Robins collected and artfully collated the remembered vignettes, fragmented glimpses, personal impressions, and eyewitness testimonies of family members, friends, acquaintances and survivors of the Baekeland's dark world. It's a looser but more compelling design that lets the colorful, lively voices of Baekeland contemporaries tell the story all the way to the terrifying, hair-raising, murderous destination. The denouement is at once shocking and perfectly ironic. Two decades after Savage Grace was first published, I am still turning friends on to it and still getting breathless, gushing phone calls about it. Can't wait for the movie.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dark Snapshot of the 'Beau Monde', January 25, 2008
By 
Susan Fensten (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Wealthy American family on a path to nowhere, traveling around the world running from themselves. Who could blame them, really? They were all terrible people deep down. Too much time, too much money. A smothering mother, flighty uncaring father and a dangerous schizophrenic son. Perfect combination for murder.

A terrific read. Hard to put down.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still a true crime classic, September 30, 2008
By 
L. Jonsson (Charleston, SC United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Savage Grace is a riveting, oral history of the Baekland dynasty that started with so much promise, and ended with a tragedy. It begins in the 1970s with the murder of Barbara Baekeland by her son, Anthony Baekeland. It then delves into the history of Bakelite (a plastic)which was invented by the GreatGRandfather of the family Leo Hendrik Baekeland in the early 20th century. This invention made the family very wealthy (and was also used in the atomic bomb, I had no idea of this until I read the book). The book discusses Brook Baekeland, Leo Baekeland's Grandson in detail and his excessive spending and aimlessness. He marries Barbara Daly, and the marriage is a disaster. Barbara Daly-Baekeland has a personality disorder and is a spendthrift social climber. She smothers her son, Anthony, a gentle soul who is eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and does not accept his homosexuality (to the extent that it is commented on by several people interviewed that Anthony reported sleeping with her). The FAther Brooks BAekeland does not accept his son's personality so he neglects his son. It discusses the decadence and decline of this family, which culminates in the murder of Barbara Baekeland by Anthony.
I originally read this book when I was in high school and did not finish it due to not understanding the oral narrative style the authors chose to use. I recently picked this book up and finished it due to the movie on HBO that was released last year. It was beyond my comprehension in high school, but now that I am older I appreciate it.
This book has everything someone interested in true crime would like. Incest, murder, untreated mental illness, scandal, social climbing, celebrities, and american and european nobilty appear in abundance in this sad tale. This book is up there with the other true crime greats Helter Skelter, and Fatal Vision. It is a classic that is well worth your time.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plastics, July 29, 2008
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This excellent oral history Natalie Robins and Steven M. Aronson of the doomed Bake-lite plastic heir Tony Baekeland (and of his beautiful mother Barbara, whom he slept with and later stabbed to death) has been enjoying renewed interest since the release of Tom Kalin's beautiful but somewhat limp film adaptation of it starring Julianne Moore. I came to the book through the movie, but the book is so much more interesting than the film version that in many ways it puts it to shame. Robins and Aronson wrest a compelling and very trickily wrought narrative arc out of their archive of letters, hospital reports, police accounts, and interviews: we start with Barbara Baekeland's stabbing in 1972, and the narrative follows both Tony's progress through the courts, the Broadmoor mental hospital in England, and then through his almost inexplicable release from incarceration back to the United States where tragedy inevitably strikes a second time and then a third; all the while, the authors follow a wider narrative path by describing how the great chemist Leo Baekeland invented Bake-lite, the first practical plastic, decades earlier, and how his own problems with his socialite wife repeated with his son George and then with his grandson Brooks, who married the beautiful Bostonian model Barbara Daly. As Brooks and Barbara race from Cadaques to Mallorca to London to Paris, hanging out with the moneyed European expatriate crowd (they numbered among their friends the writers James Jones and William Styron, the heiress Ethel Woodward de Croisset, and all kinds of minor princelings and society doyennes), their marriage begins to crumble... with their only child Tony being alternately smothered with attention and then neglected.

The suspense about what's going to happen as Tony's schizophrenic behavior keeps exploding rachets this oral biography even above more famous works such as Jean Stein and George Plimpton's EDIE and Plimpton's TRUMAN CAPOTE. Moreover, the kind of demimonde the Baekelands move through is absolutely fascinating, although the constant snobbishness, pretentiousness, and absolute refusal to take responsibility for anything among their circle begins to drive you to distraction after a good while. Most maddening of all is Brooks Baekeland himself, whose voice dominates more than any other this oral history (since of course of all the surviving characters he was closest to the epicenter), constantly excoriating his son for all the traits he himself exemplified: arrogance, dilettantism, and concupiscence. This book brings you into a heightened and fragile jetsetters' world you may have longed to see, but it then quickly makes you glad you were never a part of it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Savage Grace, May 10, 2009
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I saw the movie first and found it very disturbing. But it was interesting and I had to go to Google to find out what happened to the son after what he did to his mother. That just further intrigued me so I had to read the book.

I thought the book was good. I would have preferred if it had not been written in the form of letters and diaries, the whole book was put together in that way, it was disjointed for me.

However I am glad I bought it as it did tell the whole story, and the pictures in the center were very enjoyable.

The book, as always, tells a much more consise story of what happened in that family. It's an American Tragedy really. It got me to thinking that matriarchal incest is probably much more popular than reported.

It was a sad, tragic tale, of a mother who was a narcist, a father who was emotionally absent, and the boy they turned into a monster. They designed him, as surely as Dr. Frankenstein made his monster.

Even though Tony ended up horribly insane, my heart went out to that little boy that was so warped and so angry that he reacted in the way, finally, that he almost was hard wired to. I was surprised that he took his grandma out too later on, but with so much anger I guess she got the after shock.

I would recommend anyone to read this book, but only if you enjoy reading about the dark side of families. The movie was good, but ended after Tony did what he did to his mother, there was too much left unsaid, the movie ended before their saga did. So if you have to pick one, pick the book.

There is such a thing as too much money, too much idle time, and incest between mother and son, and it is a combustable combination.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savage Grace, July 8, 2008
By 
M. Dockery "Book Eater" (Someplace in Americana, USA) - See all my reviews
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An appropriate title for this book. Very interesting indeed--made even more so by the fact that this is true. This is a nightmarish tale of a "Mama's Boy". This story has everything. Insanity, murder, obscession, betrayal, jealousy, wealth, homosexuality, even incest. With parents like these, no wonder Antony Baekeland snapped. I enjoyed it thoroughly, even though it is not written in a traditional way. Taken from slices of interviews, journals, and documents, this book is a great read. Very interesting, however it is not for everyone. If strange family relations are not for you, stay away. If you are of the stereotype that incest only happens in the south (which is untrue anyway), and not to wealthy, "normal" jet-setting families, this is not to you.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Mommie Dearest" without the eyebrows, July 7, 2008
I could not, and didnt want to put this book down. A consistant page turner. The style in which it is presented is easy to grasp and far from confusing as stated by other reviewers. The unique style of presentaion makes the "voices" come to life as if the recollections were taking place with the reader right there. The movie starring Julieanne Moore is not to be missed. "Mommie Dearest" without the eyebrows. rent it on pay perview or IFC-In-Demand until the DVD is released.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Its about the characters, July 2, 2008
This was truly a fantastic book. Many will say they dislike the format, and I will agree it can be confusing (a Baekland family tree might have been helpful) but to state that these characters do not matter is an unfair judgment. The characters are absolutely astounding the way they interact. And the format plays to the benefit of the story, because it hints that the real truth will be forever lost, and additionally because all of the characters tell their version of one event so one can see the true motivations of each character. Such as Brooks Baekland (Tony's father) who strives to be a dashing intellectual, at which he arguably succeeds in doing, protects the family name through a blatant yet subtle ostracization (I think thats a word) of his wife and son. Then one can see where the actions and feelings of Tony are coming from. This book was utterly fantastic and I would suggest it to anyone. This is not so much historical True Crime, it is a deep delve into the psychologies of the old-money aristocracy.
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Savage Grace (Movie Tie-in): The True Story of Fatal Relations in a Rich and Famous American Family
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