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Savage Grace (Movie Tie-in): The True Story of Fatal Relations in a Rich and Famous American Family Paperback – May 13, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A classic...a chilling wedding of Mommie Dearest and Long Day's Journey into Night." -- The Washington Post

"An American fable of enduring resonance...a macabre piece of Americana." --Newsweek

"Jet-set expatriates in a murder case -- how fast we turn the pages. Savage Grace has to be the best oral history to come out since Edie." -- Norman Mailer

"Fascinating...A family saga with plot twists worthy of Dynasty or perhaps just Tennessee Williams -- it has a mythic quality that echoes Greek tragedy." -- The New York Times

About the Author

Steven M. L. Aronson is the author of HYPE. A former book editor and publisher, he lives in New York City.

Natalie Robins's books include Copeland's Cure, The Girl Who Died Twice, and Alien Ink. She lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Media Tie-In edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416571108
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416571100
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,646,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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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.
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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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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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