Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James D. Livingston

About James Livingston

Born June 23, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, James D. Livingston studied engineering physics at Cornell University and received a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University in 1956. After retiring from General Electric after a lengthy career as a research physicist, he taught in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. Although a physicist by profession, he has long had a strong interest in American history, and is the coauthor, with Sherry H. Penney, of A Very Dangerous Woman: Martha Wright and Women’s Rights.

You can find out more about James and Arsenic and Clam Chowder at

About Arsenic and Clam Chowder

Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss. The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral. In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life. The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder. In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Read the Excerpt!

Matricide is a particularly heinous crime, and the arrest of Mary Alice in mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s burial drew special notice from the press. That the allegedly poisonous chowder was delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter added extra interest; experience had shown that stories involving children always drew considerable attention, particularly among women readers. There was also a substantial inheritance involved, and Mary Alice was a member of the prominent and socially prestigious Livingston family. Money and New York society were reliable attention getters. On top of all this, Mary Alice was the mother of three illegitimate children and pregnant with a fourth. Scandal piled upon scandal. Although this was not the first time that Mary Alice had drawn the attention of the New York newspapers, her 1896 trial for the murder of her mother was to dominate the news for many weeks in the era of “yellow journalism” when papers focused even more attention than usual on sensational stories. Hundreds of thousands of readers in New York and well beyond would become very familiar with the story of Mary Alice, the clam chowder she sent to her mother, and the death of Evelina Bliss.

Watch the Trailer!

My Take:
I have always been a true crime history buff.  This book scratched my itch since I have not read one of these in a while.  This book is choked full of history and goes into what life was like during the "Gilded Age" of New York.  Not being from that class of people I ,like many ,have always been fascinated by their lifestyle.  I have alwasy also been interested in why some one would kill a family member for any reason.    If you like history and true crime  I think that you would find this book both interesting and intrigueing.  


  1. Thanks for hosting Jim today. I'm so glad you enjoyed his book. He has also written a book about Martha Wright, an advocate for women's rights and a peer of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Both books read more like novels.

    Thanks also for posting the extras. Jim wrote the song that was performed in the trailer. He is a very talented man.

    I hope your readers will look into his work.


  2. I added this one to my TBR--thanks for sharing!

  3. Hey there,

    Stopping by as part of the Hop! This book sounds really interesting, I made a note to keep an eye out for it sometime. Thanks for putting it on my radar!


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