American Eve : Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu
Published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group
Rating: 3.5 stars
American Eve chronicles the life of Evelyn Nesbit, the original "it" girl, whose popularity soared after being photographed to sell many different products, using her innocent sexuality to their advantage. Evelyn was known to be the most photographed woman of her era and was pursued by many men. The two most important men in her life, Stanford White, and her millionaire husband Harry K. Thaw, mistreated her and then ultimately fought over her until their demise. This "crime of the century" initiated a nation's fascination with celebrity and beauty that has continued on into the next century.
This book provides a wonderful look into the world of the rich and powerful during the early 1900s. However, having been written by a professor, it is to be expected that it reads more like an academic text then a regular work of non-fiction. Although someone looking for a casual biography could be very interested by this book, there is a lot of well-researched information in it for those who want a more scholarly approach.
The book itself is very well-written and captures the tone and feel of life at the turn of the century quite nicely. There is extensive detail about the inner workings of both Evelyn's personal and professional life, leaving no stone unturned. This is both a disadvantage and a benefit. On the one hand, there is a great amount of detail which can seem unneccesary in certain instances, but alternatively it provides an extremely close look at every detail of Evelyn's life and the lives of those around her.
Having never heard of this scandal, it was intriguing to read about, while simultaneously hard to hear about the horrible way Evelyn was treated. From exploitation to rape, there is no shortage of brutal acts and scandalous behavior to read about. Despite the amount of detail though, I never felt very connected to Evelyn. Perhaps this is the consequence of the book's biographical nature, as opposed to memoirs, which I generally read. Regardless, I realize that the point is not to sympathize with the main character, which is probably why I had some trouble with it.
Overall, American Eve is very well-researched and perfectly written for its subject matter. Although I myself found some parts to be too detailed and would have liked a more personal slant to the narrative, I am certain that others who read more of this type of biography will enjoy it very much.
BIG THANKS to Jennifer and Penguin for my review copy.