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Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye Hardcover – August 21, 1997

3.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The founder of the United States's most famous detective agency was a fiery political radical in his native Scotland before immigrating to America in 1842. The genius for organization and attention to detail that he displayed as a rebel stood Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884) in good stead as he shaped a national organization capable of pursuing criminals across state lines at a time when there was no federal law enforcement. Vividly depicting his subject's eventful career, historian James Mackay corrects longstanding errors as small as Pinkerton's birthday and as large as the canard that he provided Union Army General McClellan with faulty intelligence that prolonged the Civil War.

From Library Journal

Award-winning historian Mackay's (Michael Collins, LJ 1/97) research skills show through in this book. He apparently spent many years studying one of the most enigmatic characters from the Civil War era, Allan Pinkerton. Though Pinkerton started the first U.S. detective agency after successfully uncovering a counterfeit ring, little was known about him. The author does an excellent job of tracing Pinkerton's early life and his arrival in the United States from Scotland. Then he examines better-known aspects of Pinkerton's career?his part in Lincoln's train ride through Baltimore, investigation of the Confederate spy Rose Greenhow, and association with Gen. George McClellan, his mentor and hero. Mackay is perhaps too apologetic in his treatment of Pinkerton's intelligence reports to McClellan, which vastly overstated the number of Confederate troops, and he blames McClellan's lack of initiative on political intrigue from Washington. Nevertheless, Mackay's work will appeal greatly to historians and Civil War specialists.?Mark E. Ellis, Albany State Univ. Lib., Ga.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (August 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471194158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471194156
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,037,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Pinkerton Biography
The story of Allan Pinkerton, a poor Scottish immigrant and former working-class radical who rose through the ranks of society to become the protector and confidant of presidents and tycoons is a quintessential American story that deserves such a thorough telling. This book was a fascinating read, and left me wishing that the author had delved more into the numerous early cases that were only hinted at in the text.
The only serious criticism of this biography is the author appears to have gotten a little too close to his subject, which in several points has clouded his objectivity. This is apparent in the book's tendency to rush to Pinkerton's defense, particularly regarding the handling of the Molly Maguires and other labor disturbances of the late 19th century. A sweeping condemnation of the labor activists as "terrorists," or stressing the fact that they greatly outnumbered the Pinkerton operatives during violent strikes, are intended to make Pinkerton and his agents "the good guys" in the eyes of readers. This stance is questionable, however, considering the book's general lack of background information on the U.S. labor situation at this time. The author also neglects to explore how Pinkerton, a well-known Glasgow labor radical in his own youth, so readily sided with "other side" -- the titans of American industry -- later on in life.
But overall this book is a good read and well-researched, especially the chapters concerning Pinkerton's early life in Scotland and his association with President Lincoln during the Civil War.
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Format: Hardcover
I had always heard of the Pinkertons or Pinkerton Detective Agency, but had never really thought about who this "Pinkerton" might be. James Mackay's Alan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye is a useful biography of both the man and the firm. In his introduction, Mackay makes clear that his most original scholarship - and of which he is most proud - is in tracing Pinkerton to his youth in Scotland as a Chartist leader. Unfortunately, this is the dullest part of the book, I think because Mackay is focused wholly on doing scholarship rather than telling a story. Once his subject moves to America, however, Mackay's book gains in interest and becomes an interesting read. Here, he shows how Pinkerton, by trade a cooper, essentially stumbled onto his career as investigator through his extreme powers of observation and sheer doggedness. Though these attributes, his honesty and business acumen, Pinkerton built a business which remains in existence today. A particularly interesting section of this book deals with Pinkerton's actions during the Civil War, and the allegations that he had become a puppet of General McLellan and disloyal to Lincoln. Mackay explores and justifies Pinkerton's loyalty to "Little Mac", but argues - convincingly for me - that he did not stray from the Union (In the process Mackay argues that McLellan has been unfairly maligned and was a "great" general; this argument, however, is undeveloped, and perhaps will form another book). This is a useful and interesting book for readers interested in real-life "private eyes" and the Civil War.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mackay is as talanted a literary detective as Allan Pinkerton was as a criminal detective, written in a clear style that's a pleasure to read. It's a well balanced account, explaining the character's actions in the context of the times.
Mackay's first surprise is that Allan Pinkerton wasn't born when most biographers say he was. From there he goes on to uncover the truth about Pinkerton's early career in Scotland, and the truth about a 'supposed' assasination plot against Lincoln before he took office. (The plot was independently confirmed by a political enemy of Pinkerton who had no motive to make Pinkerton look good--which convinced Lincoln the plot was real, and to follow Pinkerton's suggestions to foil it. Political enemies of Lincoln denied the existence of the plot to make Lincoln out to be a coward.) Before he finishes the Civil War period, Mackay has 'rehabilited' the often pilloried Union general McClellan (whom Pinkerton worked for) and divulged startling information uncovered in 1967 about the plot to assasinate Lincoln. This book is outstanding, a definite 'keeper'.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography of the inventor of the private investigation industry is not only a thrilling look at a fascinating man, it is also a fresh perspective on a slice of American history. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in mystery fiction or detective novels, as well as anyone who is looking for a history book that isn't boring. While it may well be a bit biased, the presentation is thought-provoking and makes me want to research the period of the late Civil War/early Reconstruction more thoroughly.

Better than most fiction I've encountered lately, and definitely an overlooked gem.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As one who is both a American history buff and a lover of mystery, Private
Eye novels- I was very drawn to this book.

I am not familiar with the author James MacKay- he is very deep in his
research and writing.

If you can get through the first 2 chapters of the book, You'll find a
very interesting novel.
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