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Showing 1-10 of 67 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 92 reviews
on June 16, 2015
The book was interesting, but two things about it irritated me. First, particularly in the early pages, the author tells readers not only what he is going to reveal in the remainder of the book, but tells them rather bluntly what they should think about it. Why not leave it to readers to judge the significance of the book's revelations after evaluating the data presented. Second, and in a similar vein, the book goes far overboard in attributing all manner of present-day visual technologies to the inventions of one person. In fact, a long string of technological innovations has been involved, and one can argue (and the book reveals to some extent) that those described in the book are no more than incremental advances. Regarding the interaction between Stanford and Muybridge, at the end of the book, I was still left wondering to what extent either man was instrumental in enabling the achievements of the other. Despite these quibbles, I enjoyed reading the book and will recommend it to others, with reservations.
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on February 22, 2013
The author gets off the two story lines often and provides the reader with a lot of period color that isn't relevant. Much of the historical facts are lost when the author speculates about things he can't possibly know, such as thoughts and motivations where he provides no factual basis. This is a fiction based on a few historical facts rather than a history fleshed out with a little fiction. Interesting, but don't pick it up unless you have a lot of time to kill.
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on June 8, 2016
Historians might argue about whether Eadweard Muybridge was the key figure in the invention of motion pictures—let alone our entire modern, media-obsessed culture—as Ball claims, but he certainly was a key figure, since his sequential photos of running horses, made with a camera setup of his own invention and projected onto a screen for the first time in 1880, were (Ball says) the first moving pictures ever shown in this way. Leland Stanford, in whose home that screen was located, was Muybridge’s patron for a while (Muybridge made the horse photos at Stanford’s request) and certainly played a central, if not necessarily beloved, part in the development of American railroads and industry, not to mention founding a major university. Stanford, of course, is well known, and Muybridge is relatively so, at least to anyone who has studied photography, but this book brings out interesting facts about both men that may not be familiar to many readers; at least, they were new to me.

The most startling fact, of which the book makes much, is that Muybridge cold-bloodedly killed a man—and got away with it. Don’t expect a mystery, though; Muybridge not only admitted but bragged about the crime. His motive, too, was no secret: the man he killed was his wife’s lover. The law did not hold that that was a justifiable motive for murder, but the jury at his trial (all male, as all juries were in those days) disagreed. Other details are less titillating but just as interesting, such as the fact that Muybridge was well known as a photographer of Yosemite and other scenic spots before he became involved in making movies. (He also changed the spelling of his name just about every time he changed careers, which was every ten years or so.) The book tells somewhat less about Stanford, but I learned, for instance, that he and his fellow railroad barons had started out as small merchants in Sacramento; Stanford ran a grocery store.

I had mixed feelings about Ball’s jumping back and forth in time from one chapter to the next, which I assume he did in order to keep up reader interest given that, inevitably, some parts of the two men’s lives were more exciting than others. He tells about the murder and the development of Muybridge’s motion-picture experiments in fits and starts, interspersed with information about Muybridge’s and Stanford’s background and later careers. The choice was an understandable one, but at times it was frustrating and a little confusing.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of photography or film or who simply wants to learn more about two eccentric and fascinating men whose partnership, though relatively brief, had a major impact on the way people experience the world. As Ball writes, “Movies hold the world in a perpetual present, bringing dead time (and the dead themselves) back to life…. Muybridge made possible the rescue of any length of past, restoring it to the here and now.”
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on January 12, 2015
This is the tale of a murderer and artist and Leland Stanford by Edward Ball. As a long-time Edward Ball fan since his appearance on Oprah many years ago prior to the publication of SLAVES IN THE FAMILY, I wended my way through his other books and enjoyed them, especially THE HELL INSIDE.

As an avid California history buff living in Sacramento, CA, I enjoyed reading about the relationship between two individuals whose lives intersected amid the growth of what I call my home now. Both the Inventor and the Tycoon were unique in so many ways: bold in personalities although in many different ways; reclusive at times; parsimonious and spend-thrifty; uncaring regarding personal appearance versus sartorially conscious; and so on and so forth.

The rapaciousness of both to do their own thing traversed through the arteries of these men and were altered by the infidelity of the Inventor's wife leading to the murder of the apparent father of birth child of his wife and the sudden death of Tycoon's only son while in Europe. The Tycoon's son died at age 14 years after being born 18 years after the Tycoon's marriage to his wife. As a tribute, a famous educational institution of higher learning in sited on the horse farm that the Tycoon founded to get away from his mansion in what used to be called Yerba Buena.

Mr. Ball speaks to the Octopus in this book. Mr. Ball seems to be an author-spider weaving threads in different chapters and tightening the web between the main characters and then spreading the web apart as their lives reached different arenas. This is a do not miss book for people who like history, trains, idosyncratic people, the beauty of California, and the human spirit in all its goodness and depravity.
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on July 27, 2016
Although the information is interesting, the organization of the text seems fragmented and, at times, repetitive. The reader could well be left with the question as to whether this is a poorly edited thesis or dissertation.
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on March 15, 2013
The book is about the intertwining of two lives in an era of great wealth and poverty. The tycoon is Leland Stanford who built the Western half of the Transcontinental railroad and a photographer (and murderer) who metamorphosed himself multiple times. Eadward Muybridge, or Helios or whatever other name he came up with, invented the first moving pictures which were bank rolled by Leland Stanford. The book jumps back and forth between the beginnings of these two men and their fate. The problem is you know their fate so the format really doesn't work. The reader knows Muybridge is going to be found innocent of murdering his wife's lover as how else could he make his invention later in life. Still the pictures and the wealth of Leland Stanford and the description of San Francisco in the 1870's made the book worth reading. I did learn from reading it but the story does not make for a page turner. Devil in the White City, this book is not.
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on March 3, 2014
The story was interesting, but the constant jumping around in time, from character to character, etc., was annoying. this seems to be popular today, but it makes it hard to follow the story. I can follow character changes, but add to that time changes and it made it harder to read and didn't add anything.
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on March 23, 2013
I love books about "the real story" and this one seemed to fit the bill. Basically, it interweaves the biographies of the two men in order to show the way that movies began. It is very clear that the author did very detailed extensive research and in that regard, I enjoyed it very much. He could have told each biography separately, but I applaud him for trying to alternate the two, explaining what was going on in each of their lives concurrently. The problem was that sometimes the time sequences were confusing. I also found the social commentary distracting. Stanford's methods are well known, but did there have to be subjective comments about the rich, or the treatment of the Chinese workers, for example? I think it would have been more effective if the events of the story spoke for themselves. There is a brief treatment about the various men involved in the broader development of movies and I would love to see the author write a sequel in more detail, sans social commentary.
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on July 31, 2016
It is a very interesting and informative book, and at times, suspenseful. The two protagonists were both fascinating characters, driven individuals, and unlikely collaborators. It explores the personalities and motivations of the two men who both experienced tragedy. Because of them, we have motion pictures and Stanford University.
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on March 10, 2013
Much in the style of Eric Larsen (Devil in White City, Thunderstruck, In the garden of the Beast) this book is captivating.
It tells a story of how two people...from completely different backgrounds live collide.

Unlike a lot of books...this one never hits the "boring zone". Every page....every chapter and every sentence is a joy to read.

Very good history of how these railroad barons basiclly stole Lincoln and the US government blind. It was Lincoln and his quest to unite this country by rail that created the "gilded age" Laying railroad track was very lucrative much like selling drugs today. Nothing came close to creating whealth than the government subsidies to the RR.
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