Edward Ball is the author of several books of history and biography, including the bestselling National Book Award-winning Slaves in the Family. Born and raised in the South, he lives in Connecticut and teaches at Yale University.
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Excerpt from book:
The Stanford Entertainment
The mansion in San Francisco had collapsed with the earthquake in 1906 and burned to nothing a day later in the fires. I walked up the face of Nob Hill to look at the place where it used to stand. Could there be a tiny remnant of this temple of money? The hill had been known as California Hill until Leland Stanford and family moved there in 1876, followed by their preposterously rich friends. After that it was Nob Hill. Stanford and the other nabobs (a word borrowed from Mughal India, trimmed in America to “nobs”) built houses that showed their money and looked with a possessive gaze at the city below. The day after the earthquake the fire came, on a Thursday morning in April, and the two disasters took down all the big houses but one.
At the top of Nob Hill today are apartment buildings, hotels, a little park. The place that survived, the last sign of the sovereigns who had set themselves up on these blocks, was the Flood house. James Flood, a mining multimillionaire, was one of the men who exploited the Comstock Lode, a thick vein of silver in Nevada that ended up in most coins. The fire had somehow wrapped around and missed his house. When the silver man died, the Flood mansion went into the hands of the Pacific-Union Club, which seems fitting—a men’s club whose members dote on money, the way the nabobs did. I looked at the Flood house, a megalith in brown stucco, and imagined it in its original setting, amid a colony of American palaces. The first and most ostentatious of them, the Stanford house, used to stand a block to the east, at California and Powell Streets. An eight-story hotel now occupied that site, planted over the ruins. Only the granite wall that used to frame the house remained.
Mark Twain’s novel The Gilded Age gave its name to the late nineteenth century, a time of monopoly with its high tide of corruption and greed. Nob Hill was one of the age’s capitals, and whatever went on here took shape in a Brobdingnagian scale. But one episode of those years, as far as I can see, has been overlooked. It could be said that the world of visual media got under way on this hill, amid the new money of California, in the late 1800s. It happened one night at a party, at which the entertainment was a photographer called Edward Muybridge.
January 16, 1880
California and Powell Streets, San Francisco
It was the night pictures began to move. Just what it was that happened that night could not be accurately described for many years. It would not be comprehensible until the movie theaters had spread and the television stations were built, or maybe even until screens appeared in most rooms and people carried them in their hands. That winter night in San Francisco pictures jumped into motion, someone captured time and played it back. A newspaperman noticed that something unusual had happened, although he did not say anything about time. He noticed only that whatever it was that happened had taken place in the home of the best-known citizen of the state of California; he noticed these facts but missed the main event. The newspaperman pointed out that a photographer of angular shape named Edward Muybridge and his new machine had been the reason for the gathering, but he did not describe what Muybridge had done. Thanks to the paper (and notwithstanding the reporter’s oversights), we know who was there, in the house. We know who came around to the stupendous mansion where Muybridge assembled his mechanism and put it in motion and carried it thro
“Fascinating . . . a beefy and rambunctious history that is both a Victorian-age saga and true crime mystery.”
“Engrossing. . . . [A] fascinating story, full of strange and surprising details. . . . Although Muybridge was a chameleon-like figure throughout his life, Ball uses exhaustive research and vivid details to pin him down so we can have a good look at him.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Superb. . . . Leland Stanford and Eadweard Muybridge were an odd couple. . . . A beautifully written account of the collaboration of these two ambitious, contentious and ultimately incompatible men.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Rich in history. . . . Muybridge’s projections were the beginnings of the media culture that holds us in thrall today.”
“The Inventor and the Tycoon involves capitalism, money, murder, trains, horse racing, photography and the beginning of moving pictures. Ball has infused the famous and the infamous into a story so large it might as well be fiction.”
“Amusing and informative. . . . What lifts The Inventor and the Tycoon . . . is that both of the principals can lay claim to achievements of national, and one might even say global, significance. . . . Mr. Ball details the story of the two men’s long association with sympathy and flair.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Engaging. . . . This story has all the elements of a fascinating HBO drama—wealth, greed, sex, adultery, genius, betrayal, murder, scandal and tragedy. At the center of Edward Ball’s compelling yet complicated biographical saga of two formidable men during The Gilded Age of late 19th-century California is an unlikely alliance of invention whose peculiar tale is vividly telling of the place and times.”
“[A] remarkable story of the alliance between the eccentric inventor of the motion picture and the mogul who built the nation’s rails. It is a story that, for all its whirling parts and divagations, tells us a great deal about the crossroads of money and art in America. What is most interesting about this book is the making of an astonishing artist, the marvelous photographs that attest to his genius, the rousing good yarn at the nexus of industry and art.”
—The Washington Post
“In The Inventor and the Tycoon , Ball, author of the National Book Award-winning Slaves in the Family, has brilliantly fused the stories of two larger-than-life figures into a single glittering object: part social-cultural history, part melodrama, part chronicle of American self-invention. one gallops through this book with undiminished ardor [and] Ball carefully sculpts prose of bright exuberance.”
—The Boston Globe
“Sprawling and richly detailed. . . . The Inventor and the Tycoon tells the story of how wealthy mogul Leland Stanford and photographic wizard Edward Muybridge joined forces to create the moving picture, the technology that now dominates our image-flooded age. This nonfiction book, which reads like a Hollywood-style thriller, is set mainly in the City by the Bay, with a raucous history of westward railroad expansion (with Stanford as lead) thrown in for added depth. Fans of both early photography and the history of the West will be rewarded by the story Ball weaves together.”
—The Seattle Times
“Ball tells this interesting tale of invention and mayhem in The Inventor and the Tycoon. Ball’s book pairs the stories of Muybridge, gifted photographer and one of the founders of motion pictures, and Stanford, creator of the Central Pacific Railroad and the univer