The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield

The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age
H. W. Brands

American historian H. W. Brands’s new series of “American Portraits” (“smaller tales that . . . peculiarly illuminate history’s grand sweep”) gets off to a mixed start with this account of the shooting of New York plutocrat and socialite Jim Fisk by his mistress’s lover in 1872. After the title event the present-tense narrative and quick pace get snagged in that bane of so much true crime writing: the trial. A round-by-round transcript takes up the entire second half of the book, with too much information leading to a muddled conclusion. But Brands is capable of writing lively and dramatic history, and in future volumes he only needs to find a better balance of sources to make this series a winner.