This is another case of a great story resulting in a mediocre (at best) book. I was extremely interested when I saw the blurb and I got an advance copy in e-galley form. I finished it, because I wanted to write an honest and fair review, but dear reader, you will do better to read this article from American Heritage in 1967 to get the story without having to read this book.
At times plodding, Star Spangled Scandal reads like a court transcript with a few tabloid headlines thrown in for good measure. Though there appears to have been research from the endnotes, there was no real synthesis of information, no art in the telling, and no argument made at all. Most disappointing is its failure to add any new points of view, say from some of the women involved, who are treated as unimportant props. There is too much detailed and mostly irrelevant background every time a new male character is introduced in the narrative; it clutters the book to the point of making it unenjoyable.
In the concluding section the author finally makes a point that would have been better made at the beginning as his argument and then shown through evidence–that the use of the temporary insanity defense and the “unwritten law” allowing men to murder other men who soiled their wives, sisters, and mothers, stemmed from this court case. As it is, this section came too late to save the book. In addition, historical errors abound. One reviewer has already pointed out the national anthem error, but DeRose also mentions in passing that Marie Antoinette’s extravagance was to blame for the French Revolution, a ridiculous theory that has been debunked numerous times, only occasionally turning up among those who don’t know any better.
Save yourself the pain of reading this book and get the Sickles’ story from the Library of Congress instead.
You’re welcome. 🙂
Up next–A much better book about a murder trial from American History.
Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins