[PUYB Blog Tour&Review] Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James Livingston

Posted 12 October, 2010 by Molly(Cover To Cover Cafe) in Book Reviews / 1 Comment

About the Book:
Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss. The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral. In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life. The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder. In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
About the Author:
Born June 23, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, James D. Livingston studied engineering physics at Cornell University and received a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University in 1956. After retiring from General Electric after a lengthy career as a research physicist, he taught in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. Although a physicist by profession, he has long had a strong interest in American history, and is the coauthor, with Sherry H. Penney, of A Very Dangerous Woman: Martha Wright and Women’s Rights.

You can find out more about James and Arsenic and Clam Chowder at  www.jamesdlivingston.net.
My Review:
Wow! What a book! Definitely one that I would be interested in reading again. James Livingston really dug deep into history and into the facts on this murder and put them all together into one FANTASTIC read! 

Livingston tells the story behind this murder. A murder in the 1800’s, to me, is just intriguing. Intriguing because when I think of the 1800’s, I think of peace and a time that I would LOVE to be a part of. Not a time where someone who, with 4 children out of wedlock and living across the hall from her stepfather at a hotel, decides to take the life of her own mother, by sending her clam chowder laced with Arsenic. I found this novel to be VERY mysterious with it’s twist and turns of trying to determine this one thing: did Mary Alice Livingston, a woman who baited men with her children, whom never really loved her children, KILL her mother with poison? 

The style that Livingston uses to write this novel, makes it read more like a fictional novel than a true crime novel. I really liked that, however, I think he could have used a bit less of the headlines. Those did get a little boring for me. But, once I got past all those, and really got a good dose of the crime and the mystery behind it all, I was hooked! I felt like I was a part of that gilded era and helping to convict Mary Alice. I mean, come on. WHO in their RIGHT mind would do that to their 50 something mother?! 

I loved how Livingston added the details of the changing times and how the investigation took place. The evidence gathered against Mary Alice was intriguing. I also loved how this book showed that just because you come from a prominently wealthy family, doesn’t always mean that you are a good family. Every family has their problems, but this family CERTAINLY had just a few more than most people during that time. This book really opens up my eyes to a different era in time and gets me thinking that history, while one of my favorite things to learn about and read about, it has some details to it that isn’t all that different! Crime happened then just as it does now and I enjoyed reading about how the trial went and the outcome of the crime. 

Is this a book that I recommend? Most definitely! Especially if you are into the true crime TV shows and movies. This is a perfect addition to your shelves! Four stars and two thumbs up to a great author! 
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*This book was provided for review by Pump Up Your Book Promotions

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