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Detroit: A Biographyby Scott Martelle
Synopses & Reviews
Union cavalryman Boston Corbett became a national celebrity after killing John Wilkes Booth, but as details of his odd personality became known, he also became the object of derision. Over time, he was largely forgotten to history, a minor character in the final act of Booth’s tumultuous life. And yet Corbett led a fascinating life of his own, a tragic saga that weaved through the monumental events of nineteenth-century America.
Corbett was an English immigrant and devout Christian who long struggled not only with poverty but also with mental illness, which was likely caused by the mercury he used in his job as a silk hat finisher. He was one of the first volunteers to join the US Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, a path that would in time land him in the notorious Andersonville prison camp. Eventually released, he ended up in the squadron that cornered Lincoln’s assassin in a Virginia barn. After the war, he headed west as a homesteader to the plains of Kansas, where his shaky mental health led to his undoing.
The Madman and the Assassin is the first full-length biography of Boston Corbett, a man thrust into the spotlight during a national news event and into an unwelcome transformation from anonymity to fame, and back to obscurity.
As thoroughly examined as the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth have been, virtually no attention has been paid to the life of the Union cavalryman who killed Booth, an odd character named Boston Corbett. The killing of Booth made Corbett an instant celebrity whose peculiarities made him the object of fascination and derision. Corbett was an English immigrant, a hatter by trade, who was likely poisoned by the mercury then used in the manufacturing process. A devout Christian, he castrated himself so that his sexual urges would not distract him from serving God. He was one of the first volunteers to join the US Army in the first days of the Civil War, a path that would in time land him in the notorious Andersonville prison camp, and eventually in the squadron that cornered Booth in a Virginia barn. The Madman and the Assassin is the first full-length biography of Boston Corbett, a man who was something of a prototypical modern American, thrust into the spotlight during a national news event—an unwelcome transformation from anonymity to celebrity.
At its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit's status as epicenter of the American auto industry made it a vibrant, populous, commercial hub—and then the bottom fell out. Detroit: A Biography takes a long, unflinching look at the evolution of one of America's great cities and one of the nation's greatest urban failures. This authoritative yet accessible narrative seeks to explain how the city grew to become the heart of American industry and how its utter collapse—from nearly two million residents in 1950 to less than 715,000 some six decades later—resulted from a confluence of public policies, private industry decisions, and deeply ingrained racism. Drawing from U.S. Census data and including profiles of individuals who embody the recent struggles and hopes of the city, this book chronicles the evolution of what a modern city once was and what it has become.
About the Author
Scott Martelle is a professional journalist who has written for the Detroit News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Rochester Times-Union. His previous books include Blood Passion and The Fear Within. He lives in Irvine, California.
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