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The Mad Bomber of New York: The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt That Paralyzed a City Hardcover – April 5, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Greenburg (Peaches and Daddy) hits all the requisite marks in this intriguing but slow-moving chronicle of a serial bomber whose "career" spanned 16 years between 1940 and 1956. Dubbed the "Mad Bomber" by the New York City press, George Metesky's troubles began while he was working at Con Edison's Hell Gate power plant, when an industrial accident left him, he said, with chronic tuberculosis. His worker's compensation claim was denied on a technicality. Metesky—later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic—devised a scheme to "punish" Con Ed by planting homemade pipe bombs throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, first at a Con Ed plant, and then in public places, including Radio City Music Hall, Penn Station, Grand Central Station, and movie theaters. Miraculously, only eight people were injured and no one was killed during the spree. Greenburg's account picks up speed with Metesky's apprehension in 1957, after he published letters in a New York newspaper giving some identifying details. A debate raged over his competency to stand trial and which borough would try him. Greenburg, a practicing attorney, weights his account too heavily on the repetitious hunt for Metesky when his legal expertise might have been better used exploring the complex questions of legal competency. (Apr.)
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Review

"Fear, the city and one angry man.
Greenburg (Peaches & Daddy: A Story of the Roaring ’20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public, 2008) relates the gripping and bizarre story of George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” who, between 1940 and 1957, terrorized New York City with a series of pipe bombs placed in public restrooms, phone booths, theater seats and other public locations. Though his bombs caused no fatalities, 15 citizens sustained injuries, and Metesky’s elusion of the police engendered extreme anxiety in the populace and frustrated and humiliated the NYPD. In a clear, engaging style, Greenburg marshals the complex facts of the decades-long saga and paints a sympathetically three-dimensional portrait of Metesky, a paranoid schizophrenic with a long-held grudge against the Con Edison power company for failure to pay workman’s compensation after he sustained an injury in its employ. The manhunt would have far-reaching impact on police work, as desperate investigators turned to unconventional methods after being stymied in their pursuit; chief among these innovations was the decision to consult with prominent psychiatrist James Brussel in an attempt to infer personal details about the faceless terrorist through a sort of educated guesswork. Brussel’s contributions proved strikingly germane, and “criminal profiling” would become a key component in investigations ever after. Metesky’s legal battles after his capture would also prove influential, his tireless letter-writing campaign eventually leading to reforms in the handling of the criminally insane.
A compelling account of a dangerously angry man and the investigation that helped to revolutionize modern police work."--Kirkus Reviews
 
 


“A unique trip into the heart of the decades-long investigation to find the mystery man who held New York City in his deadly grip, and into the mind of a psychopath bent on revenge—no matter the cost. An excellent read!”—Clint Van Zandt, former FBI profiler, NBC/MSNBC’s senior criminal analyst, and author of Facing Down Evil: Life on the Edge as an FBI Hostage Negotiator
 
“A brilliantly gripping account of New York’s forgotten seventeen-year serial bombing case and the rise of criminal profiling in American investigative practice. A compelling new history of the infamous Mad Bomber who terrorized New York.”—Peter Vronsky, author of Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters
 
“Michael M. Greenburg takes us back in time and tells a compelling and engrossing story of crime, twisted psychological functioning, and the societal institutions that tried to deal with the perpetrator.”—Gerald Sweet, PhD, forensic and police psychologist, Los Angeles Police Department (ret.)
 
“Painstakingly researched and masterfully told. Michael M. Greenburg has put together a first-rate true-crime story that knocks your socks off—and leaves you pondering the full meaning of insanity.”—Scott Christianson, author of Bodies of Evidence: Forensic Science and Crime and Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Union Square Press; 1 edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402774346
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402774348
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,056,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This book is fantastic...well written and unbelievable!
N. Blackburn
Greenburg knows exactly how to develop his case and perhaps it is inherent in the mental machinery of an attorney that makes him so thorough yet compelling a reporter.
Grady Harp
Anyone interested in historical true crime, or New York City history, would enjoy this book.
Meaghan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on May 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let me get one thing out of the way, and it is my only negative comment about Michael Greenburg's "The Mad Bomber of New York": it's the subtitle, "The Extraordinary True Story of the Manhunt that Parlayzed a City". George Metesky did not paralyze New York City, ever. Blackouts, strikes, blizzards and hurricanes may paralyze us, as well as planes flying into our skyscrapers. But no one person, with the possible exception of David Berkowitz, stopped New York's energy. Michael Greenburg even mentions that during the escalations in the bombings people engaged in nervous joking but they did their shopping and went to work. And each bombing or bomb discovery drew crowds of curiosity-seekers. (I was often reminded of Weegee's famous photographs of witnesses to crime scenes, many of which were taken during Metesky's rampage.) Okay, that's done. Sorry, but I get defensive about my town.

Notice my mini-rant (you don't want to see my long ones) did not affect the five-star rating, and that's because everything else about this book is on the money. Attorney Greenburg goes through great pains to explain that the fact that none of Metesky's detonations resulted in fatalities was based on nothing but luck. (Perhaps it is because of this lack of fatalities that Metesky's bombings, while laden with an aura of folklore, doesn't evoke memories of terror--nostalgia, maybe, not terror--among older New Yorkers.)

However, Greenburg reminds us that the NYPD was correct in treating these bombings as criminal acts of depraved indifference, and that Metesky was dangerous, to say the least. While we're on the subject of the police, Greenburg exhibits justifiable sympathy for its inability to quickly track Metesky down. Metesky was an out-of-towner.
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Format: Hardcover
Writing books about true crimes requires a lot form the author: meticulous research not only into the actual crimes being described but equally fine tuned research into the period in which the crime(s) took place and a psychoanalyst's intensity of examination of the perpetrator of those crimes. Michael M. Greenberg ha few peers in his chosen field of writing: the only one who comes to mind is fellow attorney Vincent Bugliosi who in 1974 published (with Curt Gentry) the book HELTER SKELTER that brought all the details of the 1969 Charles Manson murders to light and became a best seller. Greenberg is as fine a writer as Bugliosi and in many ways is a more eloquent scribe delineating the events of an almost forgotten horrifying crime spree that horrified New York from 1940 to 1956 - the Mad Bomber George Metesky whose handmade bombs served as a means of vengeance and retribution suffered by Metesky during an accident in Con Edison's Hell Gate power plant, an accident that brought to light a paranoid schizophrenic outsider to the attention of the populace and crime control division Metestky wished to alert to his 'dastardly' mishap.

Greenburg knows exactly how to develop his case and perhaps it is inherent in the mental machinery of an attorney that makes him so thorough yet compelling a reporter. He probably is aware that those of us outside of New York City were familiar with this set of crimes that puzzled New York theaters, Grand Central Station, Con Ed plant and other public places, so he very gradually and carefully builds a background for this son of Lithuanian immigrants, taking us through the interstices of his childhood that created a man whose quiet and withdrawn demeanor belied the growing disease with in his mind.
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By Leo Migh on August 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the praise other readers have provided for THB -- interesting, enlightening treatment of sensitive subjects.
(Incidentally, I must agree with that first reviewer who claimed that NYC was not paralyzed by Mr. Metesky. He and I coexisted peacefully in NYC despite my frequent visits to Grand Central, the IRT and the NY Public Library.

A question: did anyone else wonder why the infamous red sox were never mentioned as items to be examined by the police? It seems to me that they would be more traceable than pipes or end caps. I kept waiting for that aha moment when Detective _______ would find the manufacturer or store that provided those scarlet hose.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Ennis on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Knowing nothing about George Metesky, I found this to be a fascinating read. It was well written and highly entertaining. Greenburg does a great job with the main characters in this story. The only complaint I have is that he could have spent more time detailing some of the more major bombings. It seems like there must be more info out there considering the massive amount of media coverage at the time. Even more excerpts from Metesky's obsessive letter writing campaigns would have been nice to see.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't know if it's because I'm a New Yorker, but I found this book absolutely gripping. Couldn't put it down. Highly recommended!
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By C. P. Anderson on February 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover
If you’re interested in true crime, you may have heard of this one before. It’s usually cited as the first example of profiling.

It’s a fascinating story. Basically, an honest-to-goodness “mad bomber” terrorizes New York City for 15 years. A desperate but open-minded police commissioner then asks a psychoanalyst to see what he can possibly come up. Luckily, the psychoanalyst – James Brussel – was something of a real-life Sherlock Holmes. He was able to predict things like where the bomber lived, who he lived with, his personality, his nationality, even that he would wear a double-breasted jacket – with the buttons buttoned! Interestingly, he did all that pretty much just by making the correct diagnosis (paranoid schizophrenia) and then using stats.

The only thing I really didn’t care for were the last few chapters, which were a little too legal for me. It was nice, though, to learn how everything turned out.

Overall, this is a wonderful read for anyone – but especially for anyone who’s heard of this story before and just couldn't rest until they had all the details.
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