Carr, Caleb 1955-
CARR, Caleb 1955-
PERSONAL: Born August 2, 1955, in New York, NY; son of Lucien Carr (an editor) and Francesca von Hartz (a social worker). Education: Attended Kenyon College, 1973-75; New York University, B.A., 1977. Politics: Independent.
ADDRESSES: Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer and historian, 1980—. Foreign Affairs, researcher, c. 1976.
MEMBER: United We Stand America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Anthony Award, First Novel, 1995, for The Alienist.
Casing the Promised Land (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
(With James Chace) America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security, from 1812 to Star Wars (nonfiction), Summit Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Bad Attitudes (television movie), Fox, 1991.
The Devil Soldier: The Story of Frederick Townsend Ward (biography), Random House (New York, NY), 1991, published as The Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became God in China, 1992.
The Alienist (crime novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
The Angel of Darkness (crime novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Killing Time: A Novel of the Future, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of a screenplay adaptation of The Devil Soldier. Author of articles on military history, short stories, screenplays, and plays; wrote and coproduced The Osiris Chronicles, a television pilot for Paramount and CBS. Contributor to periodicals, including World Policy Journal and New York Times. Contributing editor, Military History Quarterly.
SIDELIGHTS: Caleb Carr is a military historian and novelist who has written thrillers set in the past and future. The author's father, Lucien Carr, established himself as a national news service editor and, in younger years, was a companion of Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Though Caleb Carr made the acquaintance of some of these well-known authors, he found them "really weird" and was not inspired by them, as he told Mike Capuzzo of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. In fact, he added, "I became a writer despite them, basically." His thought and writing was more influenced by the dark circumstances of his upbringing, which involved alcoholism and violence. An intelligent student, he began writing freelance articles on military history after graduating from New York University in 1977. His first novel, Casing the Promised Land, was published in 1980 but went largely unnoticed. He followed that with a history of security measures in the United States, America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security, from 1812 to Star Wars.
His first book to attract considerable critical attention was The Devil Soldier: The Story of Frederick Townsend Ward. Published in 1991, The Devil Soldier recounts the adventures of Ward, an enigmatic American mercenary who was born in 1831 in Salem, Massachusetts. Ward, whose father sent him to Hong Kong at age fifteen as a punishment for truancy, prospected for gold in California in 1849, and served as a soldier of fortune in Mexico, Italy, and the Crimea. Carr's biography focuses on Ward's experiences in China during the late 1850s, when the adventurer was recruited by the Manchu dynasty to form an army which could defend the regime against peasant Taiping rebels. Ward's courage on the battle-field led the Taiping rebels to dub him the "devil soldier." Despite his success as a military leader, the war cost Ward his life at the age of thirty.
The Devil Soldier received complimentary reviews from critics. New York Times Book Review contributor Annette Kobak noted that "by marshaling his scholarship well and setting it out as an adventure story, Mr. Carr gives a good picture of the buccaneering milieu of the time, and makes a plausible case for the devil soldier being on the side of the angels." Jonathan Kirsch also praised The Devil Soldier in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, commenting that the story, "recounted . . . with authority and high spirits, is so marvelously improbable, so rich in exotic detail, that it often reads more like a historical thriller than the serious work of history that it is."
Historical detail also distinguishes The Alienist, a novel set in New York City in 1896. Combining historical personalities like police commissioner (and future president) Theodore Roosevelt and crusading journalist Jacob Riis with fictional characters, Carr crafts a story about the manhunt for a serial killer who mutilates young male prostitutes. The investigation is headed by the psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler—an "alienist"—who proposes the idea of creating a psychological profile of the killer, a radical procedure at the time. By studying seemingly minor clues, the investigative team recruited by Kreizler determines that the murderer endured sexual abuse as a child and was raised in a strictly religious household. As the team hunts for the killer, they in turn are stalked by various underworld figures as well as by the very murderer they are attempting to capture.
Reviewers praised The Alienist as an engrossing book infused with the authentic atmosphere of turn-of-the-century New York. Some critics, however, found that the story was sometimes overwhelmed by historical detail. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Stephen Dobyns, Carr's thorough research "is both a curse and a blessing, for although the novel's ostensible subject is who-is-killing-these-children, the real subject is New York City in the 1890s." Dobyns acknowledged, however, that Carr "knows his history and the details are interesting." Time contributor John Skow stated that Carr set up "a good puzzle . . . but it is his ability to re-create the past that is truly impressive. . . . The brooding, detailed cityscapes and rich historical set pieces are the best parts of The Alienist."In the New Yorker, a reviewer summed up the novel as "a really good book, swift and dense—popular entertainment that brushes important questions with its fingertips."
A sequel to The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness is "at least as winning a historical thriller as his bestseller The Alienist," proclaimed the New York Times Book Review's Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. "The quarry [in The Angel of Darkness] is more alluring and, if possible, nastier: a woman of beauty and intelligence who murders children and lots of them—both her own and others whom she's kidnaped in a strange perversion of the maternal instinct: Serial Mom in a bonnet and crinoline," explained Ben Macintyre in the New York Times Book Review. In "a turn-of-the-century New York City that feels as authentic as a fading tintype," characters first introduced in The Alienist "are joined by a vivid gallery of actual historical figures" in "adventures . . . described by a fictional former street urchin, Steve Taggert."
Critics remarked on Carr's choice of narrator as well as the story's frame of reference—Taggert tells the story twenty-two years after the events occurred. Lehmann-Haupt judged Taggert's "uneducated yet colorful vernacular" to be "an improvement on the somewhat musty Victorian prose of The Alienist," yet complained that "Taggert . . . is far too garrulous," speaks with "occasional anachronisms," and deflates the "terror, excitement or whatever" of his stories by "promising too much" prior to recounting the events. However, a more serious flaw in the novel, according to Lehmann-Haupt, is that "the character of the suspect in the kidnaping and murder" remains unclear and flat. "Still," qualified the critic, "she is an extremely intriguing set of hypotheses" aided by "clever plotting."
Driven by "broodings—psychological, moral, [and] legal," recognized a Publishers Weekly reviewer, The Angel of Darkness "is a talky thriller. . . . whose myriad pleasures exude the essence of intelligent leisure reading." A Kirkus Reviews critic, who slightly faulted the "absorbing if overlong sequel" for some "digressive comments" and "needless detailed summaries" of previous murder cases, applauded the story's "rapid pace. . . . ambiance . . . [gruesome] murderous details. . . [and] convincingly presented" ethical issue about a mother killing her children. Also criticizing the novel's length, more than 600 pages, Macintyre maintained that this "intriguing, edifying and pleasingly strange" story can be read on many levels, specifying: "On one level is an earnest if not particularly profound moral inquiry into the nature of criminal behavior and, less comfortably, into the pressures of motherhood. On another, it is a tour of some fine New York monuments, human and architectural. Finally, and most impressively, it is a ripping yarn told with verve, intensity and a feel for historical detail."
The author moved his fiction into a new time setting with his next book, Killing Time: A Novel of the Future. In this lengthy novel, the near future is portrayed as bleak. A plague has decimated the world population, the stock market has brought global financial ruin, and the Internet is a pervasive force of misinformation; the air is so polluted that people only venture outdoors when it is urgent to do so. The main character is Gideon Wolfe, a New York psychiatrist and criminal profiler whose work involves him in a decades-old case, a presidential assassination. His activities lead to his kidnaping by an anarchist group, led by a pair of genetically-engineered siblings. June Naylor, a reviewer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, took some exception to Carr's prose style, but advised that the author does a "fascinating" and "fairly credible job of illustrating ramifications of the unconscionable, reckless habits universally enjoyed in the year 2000."
Carr turned to nonfiction again with The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Carr turned his knowledge of military history once again to a review of terrorist tactics. Often decried as a new era in human warfare, terrorism is in fact an ancient tactic, according to the author, who provides many examples to prove his point. Often used, it is nevertheless ineffective, as Carr demonstrates in successive chapters. To deter the future use of terrorist tactics, Carr recommends swift, strong, preemptive strikes against nations that support terrorists. A reviewer for the Christian Science Monitor noted that while Carr had sometimes been viewed as "too single-minded and too trigger-happy" on the subject, "many Americans now may view Carr's earlier arguments as prescient and his approach as the only one that has a chance of working. The Lessons of Terror is fascinating to read and provocative in the best sense of the word."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 86, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Book, March-April, 2002, Chris Barsanti, review of The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed, p. 73.
Booklist, May 15, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 1645; April 1, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, p. 1442; October 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Killing Time: A Novel of the Future, p. 291; November 1, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Killing Time, p. 493; February 1, 2002, Brad Hooper, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. 906.
Boston Herald, December 10, 2000, Stephanie Schorow, review of Killing Time, p. 69.
Christian Science Monitor, August 5, 1994, Kristiana Helmick, review of The Alienist, p. 14; February 14, 2002, Peter I. Rose, review of The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians, p. 16.
Commonweal, December 19, 1997, Thomas Deignan, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 21.
Denver Post, January 7, 2001, review of Killing Time, p. G3.
Detroit News, November 4, 2000, review of Killing Time, p. 26.
Entertainment Weekly, April 1, 1994, p. 48; April 22, 1994; December 30, 1994, p. 117; October 17, 1997.
Esquire, December, 2000, Sven Birkerts, review of Killing Time, p. 68.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 24, 2001, June Naylor, review of Killing Time.
Houston Chronicle, September 14, 1997, Fritz Lanham, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 24; December 24, 2000, Michael J. Bandler, review of Killing Time, p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1994, p. 158; September 1, 1997, p. 1324.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 7, 1994, Mike Capuzzo, "New York City Epitomizes 'Society's Ultimate Failure' and Caleb Carr's Wounded Heart"; January 24, 2001, June Naylor, review of The Killing Time; February 28, 2002, Ernst-Ulrich Franzen, review of The Lessons of Terror.
Library Journal, October 15, 1997, David W. Henderson, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 90; December, 1997, Joanna Burkhardt, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 173; November 15, 2000, Laurel Bliss, review of Killing Time, p. 95; June 1, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Devil's Soldier, p. S56.
Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2002, Anthony Day, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. E3.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 2, 1992, p. 4; December 10, 2000, Renee Graham, review of Killing Time, p. 10.
Maclean's, December 11, 2000, review of Killing Time, p. 52.
Newsweek, April 11, 1994, p. 76; February 11, 2002, Malcolm Jones, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. 60; October 6, 1997, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 76.
New York, April 4, 1994, pp. 58-62; December 11, 2000, Daniel Mendelsohn, review of Killing Time, p. 77.
New Yorker, June 27, 1994, p. 84.
New York Times, March 29, 1994, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Alienist, p. C17; May 19, 1994, Matthew Purdy, "A Historian Becomes a Novelist to Flee the Past," p. B5; September 29, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. B6; January 31, 2002, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. B9.
New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1988, p. 12; January 19, 1992, p. 13; April 3, 1994, p. 19; June 18, 1995, p. 32; September 29, 1997; October 12, 1997; December 10, 2000, Daniel Zalewski, review of Killing Time, p. 19; February 17, 2002, Michael Ignatieff, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. 8.
People, June 20, 1994, pp. 75-76; October 20, 1997, Alec Foegle, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1997, p. 43; September 15, 1997, Jeff Zaleski, interview with Caleb Carr, p. 46; September 25, 2000, review of Killing Time, p. 84; January 14, 2002, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. 53.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), November 16, 1997, David Shribman, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. Y8; December 10, 2000, Renee Graham, review of Killing Time, p. Y3.
Rocky Mountain News, November 2, 1997, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 4E; November 26, 2000, review of Killing Time, p. 1E.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 1997, Harry Levins, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 5C.
SAIS Review, summer-fall, 2002, Timothy Reuter, review of Lessons of Terror, pp. 371-373.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1997, Colleen Lindsay, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. E5; November 7, 2000, David Lazarus, review of Killing Time, p. C2.
School Library Journal, February, 2001, Carol DeAngelo, review of Killing Time, p. 143.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 3, 1997, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 22.
Time, April 18, 1994, p. 77; September 20, 1997, John Skow, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 92.
Times Literary Supplement, July 1, 1994, p. 20.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 17, 1994, p. 4.
TV Guide, January 20-26, 1996.
Vanity Fair, April, 1994, p. 108.
Virginian Pilot, February 11, 2001, review of Killing Time, p. E4.
Wall Street Journal, January 15, 1992, David Shribman, review of The Devil Soldier, p. A10; May 2, 1994, p. A14; October 3, 1997, Tom Nolan, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. A8.
Washington Post, January 21, 2001, Gregory Feeley, review of Killing Time, p. 1; February 17, 2002, Lorraine Adams, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. T4.
Washington Post Book World, March 27, 1994, p. 4; June 11, 1995, p. 12; Feburary 17, 2002, Lorraine Adams, review of The Lessons of Terror, p. T4.*
World and I, February, 1998, Linda Simon, review of The Angel of Darkness, p. 269; June, 2002, p. 234.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (May 22, 2003), Dwight Garner, interview with Caleb Carr.
Time,http://www.time.com/ (November 3, 1999), transcript of chat session with Caleb Carr.*