New York Times Bookshelf: Sam Roberts on Saving Sin City
There’s Plenty to Read About the ‘Trial of the Century’
The epigraph of Mary Cummings’s book about the trial of the century — the early 20th, at least — pretty much sets the tone for the tawdry, misogynistic and, even in the 21st century, painfully familiar narrative that follows in the latest recaps of Stanford White’s murder, one by her and another by Simon Baatz.
“What is the chief end of man?” Mark Twain asks. “To get rich. In what way? Dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must.”
Add sex and ego as two more goals and the self-destructive means to those ends (lusted after by women, too) are re-examined in Ms. Cummings’s “Saving Sin City: William Travers Jerome, Stanford White, and the Original Crime of the Century” (Pegasus Books) and Mr. Baatz’s “The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century” (Mulholland Books; Little, Brown and Co.).
Both make for good late season beach reads, even though each explores the 1906 love triangle killing through different prisms. Ms. Cummings focuses on Jerome, the Manhattan district attorney, in a methodical, but engrossing account. Mr. Baatz’s more breezy version attempts to place the sexual exploitation of Evelyn Nesbit in a modern context.
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