2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2013
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. The source of Metesky's outrages occurred years before the bombings began. Metesky was meticulous and evasive. He knew how not to get caught, how not to leave a trail. In an age before computers, it was nearly impossible for law enforcement to collect miniscule data and search for patterns. The police of that time did the best they could.
Greenburg's best work in this book, to me, happens when he outlines how the Metesky case influenced so much in so many fields in New York and America. First and foremost, the Metesky case gave birth and credence to the science of psychological profiling of criminals. Dr. James A. Brussel's work on the case, which by no means perfect, got the ball rolling. He would be approached by law enforcement agencies across the nation for his expertise of the subject. Brussel, aptly regarded as the father of criminal profiling, would be a huge influence on Howard Teten, who, in turn, would provide the rock solid foundation of modern behavioral analysis.
The legal effects of the case (which Greenburg excels at describing) were also deep and rippling. The treatment, detention, indictment and incarceration of mentally ill suspects all changed in New York, and later the rest of America, because of what happened to Metesky. The McNaughton rule, an antiquated insanity law, was revamped in the 1960s because of this case. This change caused legislators to review and modernize their opinions on the rights and status of the criminally insane across the nation.
While the relationship between the press and the police had always been contentious at best in New York, the Metesky case showed how cooperation between the two could have outstanding results. Seymour Berkson and his Journal-American sacrificed huge bursts in circulation and profits by withholding letters written by Metesky from the public for the benefit of the investigation.
The physical and mental well-being of all inmates of institutions for the criminally insane had to be re-evaluated. Metesky's physical health deteriorated during his incarceration at Matteawan, as did his mental well-being. Metesky's complaints and charges against the institution brought a more liberal thinking (for better or worse, depending on your point of view) toward the treatment of the criminally insane. In 1976, New York restructured its delivery of mental health to the criminally insane and in the process shut Matteawan down.
It's ironic how one man's rampage brought about so many improvements.
And if that is not enough, Greenburg's accounts of the actual bombings, the investigations, and the city as it was, all those years ago, just give the book its additional pleasure and full dimensions. As you can tell, I really enjoyed this book. Whether your interest is in New York History or Psychology or true crime, you will enjoy this book, too.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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. He takes us through the Great Depression, then the 'red scare', the flavor of the USA at the entry into WW II at the time of Pearl Harbor's thrusting the country to blind nationalism, and the subsequent post war state of mind in this country. Metesky always seemed to be on the outside of viability as a human and when he was the victim of a technical disaster while working for Con Ed on September 5, 1931 resulted in severe pulmonary bleeding, he was unable to work and developed many complications from his industrial accident resulting in bilateral pulmonary tuberculosis.
Metseky was forced to live off his older spinster sisters who moved him to Arizona for his disease state and then back to Connecticut where he penned multiple letters to Con Ed for workman's compensation, continued health benefits - support of any kind that would provide him with some satisfaction that Con Ed cared. When all of this frustration came to nothing he devised pipe bombs, carefully creating strange devices, covering all his tracks, and placed these bombs where they would bring attention to the public about his plight with the empire of Con Ed. With tremendous sensitivity Greenburg allows us to get to know George Metesky, understand the emergence of this psychosis, and still document all the police response (a fine history of the bomb squad in New York is included) and the harrowing terror of an unknown bomber created in a city that never knew where the next explosion could occur. The results of the serial bombings over such an extended period of time resulted in a positive force in the evaluation of criminal profiling (now so well understood because of television programs such as 'Criminal Minds') and an evaluation of how to deal with the criminally insane - a feature of the book that sits well in the purview of Greenburg as a practicing attorney. This is a tale about a man who singlehandedly terrorized a city for sixteen years while sustaining the role of a complete conundrum to the law enforcement agencies those tactics would be permanently altered because of the madness of one man.
An example of rich is this author's talent: `As the scourge of fascism spread across Europe, the violent impulse that now inculcated George Metesky's ailing mind searched for expression. The decade that gave birth to radio and radar, Art Deco and swing, 'The Grapes of Wrath' and `The Wizard of Oz'; that saw Olympic triumph in Berlin and Hindenburg disaster in New Jersey; that began with the hardship of depression and the repeal of Prohibition, would end with America edging ever closer to world conflict. And for an unpretentious man from Waterbury, Connecticut, ravaged with mental illness, the decade of the 1930s would end with a simple decision to use bombs to settle a personal score.'
To this reader's knowledge this is only the second book from the gifted Michael K. Greenburg: his first book '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' was a complete surprise and a fine winner. This writer seems destined to become one of America's finest true crime historian/novelists. If there is anything that could be improved in his work it would be in the choice of titles for his books - both book's titles sound sensational like headlines, are too long, and need to be reduced to something very catchy and attention getting to get the exposure they deserve. Grady Harp, June 11
on August 22, 2012
This is an excellent piece of "creative nonfiction." George Metesky's reign of terror was world-famous at the time, but nearly forgotten today, and this is the only full-length book I've found on his case. The author comprehensively covers Metesky's life, the development of mental illness, his dispute with Con. Ed. and his resulting crimes, as well as the police effort, criminal profiling and journalist/police cooperation that lead to his capture.
In spite of his dangerousness and lack of remorse I had to feel sorry for Metesky -- he was so pathetic. And I felt even sorrier knowing that, had he committed the bomb spree today, he would not have been judged insane but would have been thrown into a prison cell for life, which was not the best place for him.
Anyone interested in historical true crime, or New York City history, would enjoy this book. It might be a good vocab builder too, with lines like: "The early dusk of winter had cast its tenebrous veil upon the office." I have a huge vocabulary and even I didn't know what "tenebrous" meant. I looked it up; it means "dark and gloomy."
on February 11, 2014
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.
on May 28, 2012
I look forward to reading this book. The Mad Bomber case is the one that got me interested in being a Policeman in the first place. I served my 'PD' time in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York, retiring in late 1977. One of my training events in New York City was with the Bomb squad. I got to stand on the the back of the NYPD bomb truck which I believe was developed with the Mad Bomber in mind. I still have photos from those days....Some of the older Detectives had been active in the bomb investigations, at the end of their careers while I was just starting mine. I have memories and photos from those days and always hoped someone would put the story into book form. I am pleased that it has come to pass. I have just ordered it and look forward to reading it.
on April 30, 2011
Michael M. Greenburg has woven the broad-reaching facts of the story of George Metesky into an extremely well written narrative of a harrowing episode in New York City's history. The story offers a rare snap shot into the inner workings and cooperation of the NYPD, the City Government, and the New York Press and captures the fear that gripped the city during Metesky's tirade. I was impressed with how well-researched this book was, and how it felt as though we were once again living through the 1940s and 1950s in New York City. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the investigation of a TRUE crime story, and how one devious man's crusade ended up changing the way society now treats its mentally challenged criminals. Well done!
on August 29, 2014
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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2011
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.
on April 5, 2011
This book is fantastic...well written and unbelievable! There are times that I wish an author would do a Q&A section and this is def. one of those books. I have so many questions for the author re: this story. It is amazing how much the NYPD came off looking like keystone cops re: this story. It didn't come across as the author's intention, but I just keep shaking my head about how long it took to catch this guy!
on March 8, 2015
Very interesting book. Saw a documentary on TV and had convince to buy the book. I do recommend this book for the fact of how detailed this early 1900s life was and conditions that would make one wonder the real reasons for this man's actions.