The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball is a non-fiction book about two pioneers, a murder and motion pictures. The author is a National Book Award winner for his previous book Slaves in the Family.
The book is divided into three parts:
Part one goes back in time from the 1880s to the 1860s when Stanford became a rich man from his humble beginnings as a shop owner. At the same time Eadweard Muybridge becomes a photographer.
The second part is less organized and takes place during Stanford’s youth (1830s–1870s not necessarily in order) and skips to Muybridge’s 1876 murder trial.
Two years into his marriage, Muybridge discovered that his wife Flora was cheating on him with her friend Harry Larkyns. During this time, Muybridge also found out that his son Florado might have been fathered by his wife’s lover. In October of that year, Muybridge tracked down Larkyns and shot him point blank. Later that evening Larkyns died, and Muybridge was arrested.
During the trial the defense pleaded insanity even though the defendant fully admitted that his actions were deliberate and planned. However, the jury still found Muybridge not guilty on the grounds of justifiable homicide.
Part two then jumps back to Muybridge’s youth (1830s) and ends in the 1850s and 1860s.
The third part of the book is more straightforward, starting where part two ended to Muybridge’s death at the beginning of the 20th Century. The story involves capitalism, money, murder, trains, horse racing ,photography and the beginning of moving pictures.
In The Inventor and the Tycoon, author Edward Ball has infused the famous and the infamous into a story so large it might as well be fiction.
Leland Stanford, “the richest man west of the Mississippi,” railroad tycoon, robber baron, patron of the arts and a hippophile had one question on his mind: do horses’ hooves leave the ground when they gallop? Enter photographer Eadweard Muybridge who will try to prove Mr. Stanford right and, unbeknownst to the two of them, usher the world into the age of movies.
Race horse galloping (from a series of pictures by Eadweard Muybridge
Mr. Ball teases the reader by not telling the story in a chronological order; we start with Muybridge shocking a bunch of rich folks with his horse-in-motion display, move on to a chapter about the murder, to a history of Stanford (for which Stanford University is named after), his railroads, Muybridge’s trial, Stanford’s fascination with horses, photography, the trial’s verdict and more. As you can see, the author plants a seed and leaves it alone by moving on to another subject which might or might not be related only to come back to the subject later on. While I am not a fan of this style, Mr. Ball made it work, and the several cliffhangers kept me hungry for more.
Due to the structure of the book, the author repeats several key facts which, if they were told in order, the reader might have been able to keep in their heads. The structure is odd, but it tells the story of two odd people (even though I have to admit that Muybridge is certainly the one who is more strange) and somehow seems fitting. Muybridge dressed down, smoked a corncob pipe, changed the spelling of his name several time and married a woman half his age. Stanford headed a large company building the western half of the transcontinental railroad, became a US Senator and California’s governor.
One of the more interesting aspects of the book was a short part at the end where Muybridge, who invented a “moving picture” met super-inventor Thomas Edison. The Wizard of Menlo Park is not portrayed very kindly in the book; he “had a habit of borrowing the work of others and not returning it,” taking Muybridge’s idea and basically making it his own while throwing the photographer out and taking credit for the ages.
The book is fun to read, Mr. Ball creates scenes which seemed to be taken out of a novel and make the reading move fast. Peppered throughout the book are photographs demonstrating Muybridge’s skill and evolving experiments of early cinematic magic.
- 464 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385525753