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The Alienist [Paperback]

Caleb Carr
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Oct 2006
The year is 1896, the place, New York City. On a cold March night New York Times reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned to the East River by his friend and former Harvard classmate Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist, or "alienist." On the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge, they view the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy, a prostitute from one of Manhattan's infamous brothels.

        The newly appointed police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, in a highly unorthodox move, enlists the two men in the murder investigation, counting on the reserved Kreizler's intellect and Moore's knowledge of New York's vast criminal underworld. They are joined by Sara Howard, a brave and determined woman who works as a secretary in the police department. Laboring in secret (for alienists, and the emerging discipline of psychology, are viewed by the public with skepticism at best), the unlikely team embarks on what is a revolutionary effort in criminology-- amassing a psychological profile of the man they're looking for based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who has killed before. and will kill again before the hunt is over.

        Fast-paced and gripping, infused with a historian's exactitude, The Alienist conjures up the Gilded Age and its untarnished underside: verminous tenements and opulent mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. Here is a New York during an age when questioning society's belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and mortal consequences.

From the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 498 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (24 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976144
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,005,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


" You can smell the fear in the air." --"The New York Times" " Gripping, atmospheric, intelligent, and entertaining." --"USA Today" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Reissue of this ground-breaking historical whodunnit, in which 1890s New York is as much a character as the investigators --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping stuff! 28 April 2005
By Martin
A corker of a book! Carr's obviously done his research here (and judging from 'the devil soldier' he's more than capable). The combination of history, history of forensics and forensic psychology, profiling, etc., all mixed together with a healthy dose of psycho/sociopath on the loose is gripping stuff. How much is factually accurate, I know not but I'm not going to argue the point. His characters are likeable and fun, albeit a rather eccentric bunch; his villian is villianous and his plots twist and turn like twisty turny things. I first borrowed and read this several years ago, then bought a copy for myself - I've now lent that to a friend and not seen it since so will be replacing mine again soon. It will be one that remains in my collection to be read again and again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really a page turner but… 6 May 2004
An average crime story without surprises and twists. When I think about that book it reminds of a phrase I heard a long time ago: ‘Everything has been said before!’ Nothing in the story plot is surprising or exciting. The chase after the murder is a straightforward plot and not even the end of the story offers interesting or surprising moments. Why would you read that book? Because of the vivid and historically well researched descriptions of New York and its people in 1896. The book is also an interesting read if you enjoy forensics and the history of it. However, the character development is kind of odd and not very realistic in some instances. For example, the forensic team investigating the murders consists of a woman and a black man. Back at that time, the level of involvement of these characters would have been rather impossible or at least very different. I got the impression the author tried to be too politically correct. Another odd part is Kreizler’s mysterious childhood which influences his decisions in some cases. This part of the story is not sufficiently enough addressed and contradicts with the overall approach of explaining everything in great detail. All in all an average crime story and nothing you have to read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumphant 24 Nov 2000
One of my better 'bargain bin' discoveries, this one. I picked it up for a mere 20% of the cover price.
Let's get to the point: what makes for a good character in a book or film? A character that you can really identify with? One that you really care about? Caleb Carr will show you the answer to that question: each of the characters in this book has a history, a background of events that caused them to become who they are.
Result: as the reader, you actually give a damn about what happens to them. You understand the basis for the decisions they make, the actions they take, the feelings they have, and ultimately what becomes of them.
The plot is well thought out, with a few sub plots and red herrings thrown in for good measure. Mr Carr's writing style is perfect for the job too: reminiscent of old classics from the 19th century, yet fast-paced enough to keep the reader interested. The setting of old New York is vividly brought to life, street by street, building by building, and the communities it houses are portrayed with sympathy and realism. Truly Caleb must have spent many a long night doing his research.
The conclusion is logical and satisfactory - no need for a hackneyed twist in the tail or a cliched moral lesson.
I read somewhere that he's sold the film rights for a large sum of money. Good for him. This book will make a great film, particularly if the producers put the emphasis on quality drama, beautiful cinematography and competent acting, rather than hollywood glitz or gore...
I read one review on Amazon.co.uk that gave the book a poor review due to it's lack of fear and tension. I feel that's missing the point somewhat. If you want horror, go read Stephen King or one of his ilk. This book is about criminal psychology - what makes a man into a killer? And as such nobody - but NOBODY - has done a better job than Caleb Carr.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb novel written by a historian-professor 17 Feb 2007
Apocryphally, Caleb Carr's publishers thought this was originally a factual historical book when they first received it, but then discovered it moved a little more quickly and (dare I say it) excitingly than a standard academic historical work.

I disagree with the reviewer that thinks it's too long. The beauty about this book is the manner in which it sucks you into the seedy underbelly of New York in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the research and information we get as readers is startlingly comprehensive: criminology, alienism (nascent psycho-analysis and psychiatry) and detailed corruption. Theodore Roosevelt is name-checked and plays a significant role in the story.

For anyone keen to delve into the best that New York writing can offer (this was a NYT bestseller and sold millions) then I would recommend this unreservedly. It is not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am thriller, more of a totally believable and often surprising journey into the labyrinth of horrific crime that no-one - then, at least - wanted to believe was real. But it was.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Complex Than An Escher Drawing 16 Dec 2002
By A Customer
The Alienist is a book that is filled with both mystery and horror and it is absolutely riveting. Although a little over five hundred pages long, The Alienist is so fantastic and reads so well that we barely notice the pages going by. I read it in two evenings, something that is very rare for me; when a book is as good as this one is, I like to savor it and make it last.
The first thing that most readers will wonder about is the somewhat strange title. What, exactly, is an alienist? Well, as Carr explains, prior to the twentieth century, those who were mentally ill were thought to be alienated, from society and from their own true nature as well. Those who studied the pathology of mental illness were thus known as "alienists."
The plot centers around three friends: a journalist, John Moore; an alienist, Lazlo Kreizler; and a newly-appointed Police Commissioner who just happens to be Teddy Roosevelt. The three are working to solve a series of brutal murders that involves a string of boy prostitutes.
Teddy, as would be expected, is on top of everything and appoints Dr. Kreizler to head the investigation into the murders. Moore is included by association only, it would seem, since he and Teddy went to Yale together. Coincidentally, Moore has only recently returned from England where he was busy covering the Jack the Ripper murders.
Kreizler immediately begins to track the murders using what is known and what is unknown and via assumption as well. The twists and turns in this book are so complex and varied that both information and assumptions change almost as quickly as the team of investigators can piece them all together.
As would be expected, tracking a serial killer in New York City isn't an easy job.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An amazing story on many levels
Published 7 days ago by Peter H.
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a historical thriller...
Per the title. I have read a few of the reviews and it seems that a few readers have not appreciated the fact that this is a historical thriller (and in case you hadn't noticed it... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Amon.E.Mus.
3.0 out of 5 stars The alienist
Not up to the standard of his Sherlock Holmes book. My husband was very disappointed with it. I have yet to read it.
Published 14 months ago by Cynthia Southwell
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Club Choice
Finding this very heavy going. Like the descriptions of life in the mid 1800's but find the knowledge of the two detectives far fetched
Published 21 months ago by Mr C C Dixon
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect
Carr has almost everything he needs to make a memorable book: Fascinating characterization, deep story, riveting portrayal of early psychological analysis and a setting full of... Read more
Published on 4 April 2011 by ElvenAngel
4.0 out of 5 stars Really gripping, unusual thriller
Give yourself a few pages to get used to the 19th century, 1st person narrative. It's a little wordy and - at first - a little tiresome, but the voice of our narrator, Moore, soon... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2009 by daisyrock
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but somewhat flawed
This was bought for me for Christmas a couple of years back. The giver knew I like thrillers and crime shows on TV and also knew I was an avid reader. Read more
Published on 18 July 2009 by Shutsumon
4.0 out of 5 stars Meaty and satisfying
A real meaty read this - about 500-600 pages in paperback and all of them worth reading, it gripped me from start to finish, and for my money it deserved its 25 weeks in the... Read more
Published on 28 July 2008 by Erastes
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good
I set up this pseudonymous reviewer account because, frankly, I'm sick of fanboys (and girls) throwing up 5 star reviews for their latest flavour-of-the-month read, and drizzling... Read more
Published on 13 Aug 2007 by The 'Simon Cowell' of the Book World
2.0 out of 5 stars If this book were a movie, it'd be sixteen hours long. And dull.
This story is a hideously protracted piece of work with almost no twists of note. And none at all if you exclude the ridiculous. Read more
Published on 31 Aug 2006 by Mr Malark
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