Book Review | The Trial of Lizzie Borden

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I was a strange kid who was fascinated by both space and weird historical events. One of those weird historical events was the Borden murders. I don’t remember the first time I learned about them – I probably heard the rhyme and looked it up – but I’ve been interested ever since. Obviously, I couldn’t resist Cara Robertson’s book about the crimes and Lizzie Borden’s trial. Because, surprisingly, this was my first nonfiction book on the subject.

(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)

Synopsis

(From Goodreads) The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology—the trial of Lizzie Borden—based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties.

Review

The Trial of Lizzie Borden was a meticulously researched and comprehensive look at a case that has fascinated people for over a century. For me, the case is second only to Jack the Ripper in terms of becoming a part of popular culture. It’s such a strange case, and I find it so interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of learning more about it.

Robertson manages to present a fairly complete account of the Borden murders and Lizzie’s subsequent trial while remaining relatively impartial. Personally, I found this both admirable and frustrating, because I wanted to come out of this book with a decent amount of certainty about who was actually the murderer. But, while I do have a favorite prevailing theory – hint: it was Lizzie – I couldn’t say it’s beyond a reasonable doubt. There just wasn’t enough evidence against her, and there’s still the possibility of someone else having committed the crime.

I really liked this book. While it was a tiny bit on the dry side – it is a history book, after all – it did hold my attention all the way through, and I thought it was a great overview of the case. The time Robertson spent researching this book was evident, and I respect that a lot. I was a little bit disappointed that there wasn’t a whole lot of information that was new to me, but that’s just me, personally. I’d definitely recommend this for anyone who is curious and wants to learn more about the Borden case, because it’s probably the most comprehensive view I’ve come across.

Rating

★★★☆☆ – Please don’t see three stars and think it’s a bad rating, because it absolutely is not. I enjoyed The Trial of Lizzie Borden. However, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking for me, personally. The writing was good, the research was great, and I think this was a solid book. It’s just not a book I’m going to remember in a year or two. And that’s okay.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden will be available in bookstores March 12. If you’re interested, you can order a copy on Amazon now

To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Trial of Lizzie Borden as one of your two free books.

This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a small commission for purchases made through this post.*

6 thoughts on “Book Review | The Trial of Lizzie Borden

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