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Extended Audio Sample The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures Audiobook, by Edward Ball Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (164 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Edward Ball Narrator: John H. Mayer Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2013 ISBN: 9780307876638
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From the National Book Award–winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life, true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads

One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon and former California governor Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media.

Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge’s quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history tells a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Engrossing…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.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Amusing and informative…Ball details the story of the two men’s long association with sympathy and flair.”

    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.”

    USA Today

  • “[A] remarkable story…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.”

    Washington Post

  • “Ball…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…[He] carefully sculpts prose of bright exuberance.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Fascinating…Ball’s The Inventor and the Tycoon [is] a beefy and rambunctious history that is both a Victorian-age saga and true crime mystery, complete with a court trial that suggests the current-day obsession with celebrities gone bad.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “Superb…Ball is an expert himself in kidnapping time and bringing dead men and women back to life.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Fascinating…Rich in history…Muybridge’s projections were the beginnings of the media culture that holds us in thrall today.”


  • “Sprawling and richly detailed…reads like a Hollywood-style thriller.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Ball has infused the famous and the infamous into a story so large it might as well be fiction.”

    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • The Inventor and the Tycoon displays Ball’s particular ability to mine history and create a compelling narrative that includes larger-than-life characters and reveals something about our inheritance.”

    Charleston Post & Courier

  • “Detailed and thoroughly researched, The Inventor and the Tycoon is at its best describing the milieu of a frontier world where ordinary men like Leland Stanford could amass great fortunes, and where Edward Muybridge could find what genius he possessed (and evade justice in the process).”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “National Book Award–winning historian Edward Ball captures the brilliance of this enigmatic man.”

    Barnes & Noble, editorial review

  • “[An] enlightening tale of power, the wedding of art and technology, and tragedy.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A skillfully written tale of technology and wealth, celebrity and murder, and the nativity of today’s dominant art and entertainment medium.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month for January 2013
  • A 2013 Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2013 New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2013 in Nonfiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kathy Stone | 2/20/2014

    " This was not a well-written biography. Yes, I know it is about two vastly different people with different personalities, but the writing itself was not great. First the text is two choppy. It jumps from scene to scene with little coherence in events. Since it was about two people, maybe one person' story should have gone first and then the other person's until they met and did the project together. Then there could have been the separation once again as their lives went along different paths. Another pet peeve I had was the fact that Edward Ball kept talking about building size as if it had a footprint. Buildings are on measured lots and then are measured in square feet for tax purposes. I do not understand this concept of footprints except as a term used by environmentalists in regards to fuel usage. Were people using that much fuel in the "Gilded Age"? A history book should give the reader the sense that he has been transported back in time. A well-written book describes the sights, sounds and smells for the reader and in this book it felt like Ball wanted to bring the past to the present. The inventor was Eadweard Muybridge who invented moving pictures, but not a way to show them that would make a profit. The other supporting inventions would not come about until after he died. Thomas Edison, who is not well-liked by Ball did find a way to show them but not with sound. The tycoon is Leland Stanford,he who built a railroad and gave his fortune to the school named for his son. These men came together over horses. The movement of horses to be exact. Stanford was curious to know if the feet of horses left the ground during a gallop. The only man who had any experience with this kind of photography was Muybridge. He invented things for the camera that allowed for multiple shots, but not how to sell them that way. Book of still photographs were expensive and apparently boring to consumers. Cinemas did not yet exist and the first one would not come about until a year after Muybridge died. This is not to say the book has no merits. I learned about California and of course the economic stranglehold that the railroad had California under. I just did not like all the jumping back and forth over decades in events while I was reading. There needs to be a natural progression when reading history and this book did not have it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Murray | 2/17/2014

    " Like Eric Larson, Ball has an entertaining way of combining historical figures or events together in ways you would never imagine and telling a compelling story. In this case, it is the fascinating intertwinings between railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and Edward Muybridge, the inventor of motion capture. While the story between them is dramatic, it pales in comparison to the fact that Muybridge was also a murderer who had committed a crime of passion. The story is written in an unconventional way, with many flash backs and flash forwards. I would have preferred a more linear approach, which, I think, would have added a measure of suspense. Nonetheless, a very gripping book, filled with lots of amazing photographs from the era. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Paul Furman | 1/29/2014

    " It was OK. It was a good story but jumped around too much in time. The last few chapters were great and moved quickly. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Bill Armstrong | 1/26/2014

    " The story of a true American eccentric (OK. He was born in England), Edward Muybridge, the progenitor (according to Ball) of the motion picture. He makes a pretty good case for it. Rather than a linear presentation of the history, Ball opts to leap back and forth in time. I sometimes found that a bit confusing.The book is worth the time to read it as the story of a true pioneer and character. You will not be bored. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Davina | 1/18/2014

    " I learned a lot from this book, but had one major criticism: I appreciate that Ball did not want to tell a linear narrative of the lives of Muybridge and Stanford but it seemed like the order in which their life events were told was random and failed to build suspense. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Gene Spiritus | 1/17/2014

    " If you are interested in the history of photography and movies this is a great read "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Alisa | 12/18/2013

    " A bit long, didn't see enough tying it to other contemporary events to give it more context. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Cynthia | 9/28/2013

    " The subject was very interesting but the writing style was dreadful! Cumbersome, uneven, very confusing--I went for days at a time without picking the book up. I was determined to finish, though, and I finally did. I won't choose any other books by this author. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Martin Kohout | 9/21/2013

    " I really wanted to like this, but was put off by the fact that Ball seemed to dislike so thoroughly both of his main characters, Eadweard Muybridge and Leland Stanford. If the author clearly doesn't care for these people, why should we? "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Tiffany | 9/20/2013

    " The content of the book was interesting but it was so badly written and had such a feeling of disorganization that it was hard to read. There also seemed to be a lot of repetition and filler information that was not necessary but rather a way to lengthen the book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Allyvlee | 9/2/2013

    " I learned so much from this book! While it was a bit light on the murder portion and really covered more of the murder trial, I didn't think it even needed it because there was so much to gain from learning about Stanford and Muybridge separately and how they came together to make history. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Perry Moore | 8/25/2013

    " I wish we could give half stars. The Inventor and the Tycoon uses the same type of story progression as Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman. I thought I was going to love this book but I found it only okay. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Liisaan | 6/19/2013

    " While the topic and content of this novel are very interesting, it is so poorly organized that it is difficult to follow. In addition, the author switches between first and third person point of view, which only serves to distract the reader. It's too bad, because I had high hopes for this book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Michael Mckinney | 6/5/2013

    " It was ok. Way too detailed and moved to much back and forth in the story line. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Peter | 6/5/2013

    " Not worth it despite the Big Bang opening. The first few chapters with photos are captivating but then the book devolves into two separate biographies that seldom intersect, both of which seem to bog. Maybe it gets better by the end, but tighter editing should have gotten there much sooner. "

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About the Author
EDWARD BALL is the author of four works of nonfiction, including the bestselling, National Book Award-winning Slaves in the Family. Born and raised in the South, he attended Brown University and received his MFA from the University of Iowa before coming to New York and working as an art critic for the Village Voice. He lives in Connecticut and teaches writing at Yale University.
About the Narrator

John H. Mayer is a writer, actor, and audiobook narrator. In 1973, he cowrote Radio Rocket Boy, an award-winning short film. He also has narrated dozens of audiobooks, including American Lion and The Wolf Tree, among many others.