Caleb Carr (August 2, 1955-), US military historian and author

Caleb Carr is the son of Lucien Carr, a UPI editor, and Francesca von Hartz, a social worker. His older brother Simon is an abstract painter and his younger brother Ethan is a landscape architect. His father was a key figure in the early days of the Beat Generation movement. He introduced Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg to one another at Columbia University. He also served 2 years in prison for killing a male stalker in 1944. Kerouac and Burroughs helped him hide evidence, but he later turned himself in.

Growing up among the Beats was a disorienting experience. “What's extremely romantic for adults may be disruptive and frightening for children.” Yet that experience has had, amazingly, no influence upon his work. His heavily researched books have little to do with the spontaneous prose of his father’s friends. The only thing that could be construed as remotely Beat about Carr is his long, straight hair. "I became a writer despite them, basically. It never occurred to me that they would be brought up in the story of my success. And, to a certain extent, it infuriates me that they are."

Even without the influence of the Beats, he had a troublesome childhood. His parents divorced when he was eight and his mother married John Speicher, a journalist with a penchant for the drink and three daughters. Thus what Carr would call “the dark Brady Bunch” was formed. He became a mischevious youth who was overly fond of using firecrackers, prompting the Friends Seminary high school to label him “socially undesirable” on his transcripts. Imagine that - being called “socially undesriable” on your permanent record, and by the Quakers no less! So he went to Kenyon College in Ohio with “a bunch of beer-drinking morons” and left after two years.

Despite his mother’s disapproval, his love for military history had formed early, possibly from the war movies he loved to watch. From Ohio, he moved back to New York and worked for his mentor James Chace at the prestigeous journal Foreign Affairs. My source material doesn’t specify how a “socially undesriable” youth got such a primo position, but it didn’t last long. A letter to the editor criticizing Henry Kissinger was published in the New York Times and he was in the outs with the staff of FA. He completed his BA at New York University and wrote his first novel, the autobigraphical Casing the Promised Land (1980), which made no impression.

He spent much of the 1980s “bumming around”, joining a band and a theater group, working in a bookstore, etc. He was also writing: op-ed pieces for the Times, articles for MHQ (The Quarterly Journal of Military History), and screenplays for a few forgettable movies. His second book, American Invulnerable:The Quest for Absolute Security from 1812 to Star Wars, was cowritten with Chase. It was a history of US national security and got mixed reviews.

His first book to receive widespread critical acclaim was The Devil Soldier (1991), a biography of Frederick Townsend Ward, an American mercenary in China. The meticulous research critics praised he applied next to the novel that made him famous, The Alienist (1994). In fact, at first he pitched his novel as another work of historical non-fiction, complete with a doctored photo of Theodore Roosevelt in his proposal. When he revealed the truth, his furious editor soon became intrigued. The story is this: it is 1896 and then NYC police commissioner Roosevelt is faced with a serial killer and fictional psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler heads the investigation. Kreizler is the titular “alienist” - a scientist who studies the minds of those alienated from society. Real people like Roosevelt and Jacob Riis mingle with fictional against a heavily researched and historically accurate background. The novel spent six months on the bestseller list. The sequel, The Angel of Darkness (1997), was inspired by the work of Wilkie Collins. It featured many of the same characters, but a different narrator.

His next novel, Killing Time (2000), was science fiction, set in a dystopian 2023, but it was still a murder mystery and written much like his previous novels. He has become a contributing editor of MHQ and worked for the Modern Library on the boards that chose those top 100 lists. Eventually, a second sequel to The Alienist will be published, but the movie version seems to have died in development.

He has been in the news recently for his latest nonfiction work, The Lessons of History (2002). It is a timely book, discussing terrorism throughout history. But critics derided his arguments as simplistic and contradictory. Angered, Carr struck back, giving himself 5 stars on an review and writing a nasty and bizarre letter to Salon reviewer Laura Miller, calling her a “bitchy wise-ass” and “REASON NO. 8 MILLION WHY THE SOUL OF NEW YORK CITY IS DYING” (caps are his). The funniest line was his comment that she was a member of “the club that meets at Michiko's to watch 'Sex in the City' and spout a lot of nonsense about things they don't know,” Michiko being New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani. Amazon removed his self-review and he wrote another letter to Salon apologizing for using “the 'b----' word.”

Gale Contemporary Authors Online database
Wilson Biographies Plus database

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