Looking for Info on the Guilded Age
November 12, 2006 8:09 PM   Subscribe

Partly because of finally seeing The Prestige I've become interested in learning more about the Gilded Age and am looking for recommendations of some good non-fiction books that cover this period in history. (note: this post is spoiler free)

I don't really know where to begin, so anything written about this time period is fine. Books related to the stage magic of the time would be wonderful, but I don't want to limit my learning to that area alone. So books that focus on a specific topic related to the Gilded Age would be great in addition to overview texts. Also, the more illustrations the better, particularly in regards to fashions and architecture.
posted by kosher_jenny to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, you so need to read Banvard's Folly: 13 Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World.

It highlights people who were once famous or celebrated, but were forgotten by history. It isn't focused completely on the Gilded Age, but a few chapters cover this time period.

Also, check out Victorian Inventions. It mainly reprints articles from Scientific American and some French science journals. Lots of great engravings.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:39 PM on November 12, 2006

I had to study the Gilded Age in a class for school. We used the book America in the Gilded Age
posted by catseatcheese at 8:57 PM on November 12, 2006

You might enjoy The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and a serial murderer who built an elaborate setup nearby to lure victims from among the fair-goers. It's an interesting look at the gilded and not-so-gilded aspects of the age, and it has some discussion of the architecture of the fair buildings.
posted by Quietgal at 10:09 PM on November 12, 2006

Alan Trachtenberg and Sarah Burns offer art/cultural history perspectives on Gilded Age society; both of their books on this era are considered staples in the field.

And of course, Mark Twain, since he coined the term.
posted by obliquicity at 10:20 PM on November 12, 2006

I had Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age in my hands just yesterday. Looked interesting, although I'm not sure what to make of the difficulty I had finding reviews of it online.
posted by mediareport at 11:08 PM on November 12, 2006

I know you're looking for stuff that covers more than just magic, but Hiding the Elephant is a pretty good book about turn-of-the-century stage magic.
posted by inkyz at 12:06 AM on November 13, 2006

Seconding Banvard's Folly.

I just saw The Prestige yesterday and put it in line on my read-next shelf, since I haven't read it since it came out.
posted by dogwalker at 2:28 AM on November 13, 2006

That movie sparked my interest in the Gilded Age as well; you're definitely not alone. :)

I wholeheartedly second the recommendation for The Devil in the White City; the breadth of research is astounding, as well as how it's all woven into a cohesive and interesting narrative. I also really enjoyed Temple of Music, even though it's fiction; it follows the events leading up to McKinley's assassination, looking at a number of different players. In particular, the machinations behind his election fascinated me.

If I might piggyback off of your question, does anyone know of books that deal specifically with Nikola Tesla?
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:54 AM on November 13, 2006

Start with the book that gave the age the name, The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner.

What exactly interests you about the period? Industrialization? Immigration? The struggle for black rights? The final defeats of the Indians? Wacky science? Wackier sex ideas? Crime and urban violence? It is a happening period.
posted by LarryC at 6:56 AM on November 13, 2006

Novels by Edith Wharton might be a good place to start. She wrote about Gilded Age society and as a member of it, has a unique perspective (the term "keeping up with the Joneses" refers to her family.) As it happens, I'm reading The Age of Innocence right now and it's a very insightful commentary on Gilded Age New York.
posted by discokitty at 7:25 AM on November 13, 2006

My Dad is a huge fan of Nikola Tesla. I bought him Margaret Cheney's "Tesla: Man Out of Time" for Christmas a few years ago, and he loved it.
posted by nekton at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2006

Thanks for the suggestions so far! I'll certainly head to the library this week so I can get a start on these over the Thanksgiving break.

Larry C, I guess I'm looking more towards books that deal more with the industrialization and the class experiences then anything else. The wacky sex and wacky science would be good to. As well as books or illustrations that give a visual feel for the time.

Really, beyond covering the period briefly during a Women's History class last year and even less so in high school, I don't know much about the era at all. So anything and everything you think might be interesting would be great.
posted by kosher_jenny at 3:31 PM on November 13, 2006

Here's a non-annotated Gilded Age bibliography; I tend to find that kind of list not very helpful without at least capsule reviews, but it's probably worth a look-through.
posted by mediareport at 9:58 PM on November 13, 2006

It is not my specialty period but a good novelization of the wacky sex and medicine aspects is The Road to Wellville. Or find a copy of J.H. Kellogg's Plain facts for old and young. Oh wait! Here it is online! Check out the chapter about masturbation, "The Solitary Vice."

For muckraking looks at the situation in the fast-growing slums try Jacob Riis or Upton Sinclair, both available online as well.
posted by LarryC at 8:59 AM on November 18, 2006

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