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The Death Instinct: A Novel [NOOK Book]


From the international bestselling author-"a sprawling and ambitious literary mystery" (The Seattle Times).

From a true and shocking event-the bombing of lower Manhattan in September 1920-Jed Rubenfeld weaves a twisting and thrilling work of fiction as a physician, a female radiochemist, and a police official come to believe that the inexplicable attack is only part of a larger plan. It's a conspiracy that takes them from Paris to Prague, ...
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The Death Instinct: A Novel

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From the international bestselling author-"a sprawling and ambitious literary mystery" (The Seattle Times).

From a true and shocking event-the bombing of lower Manhattan in September 1920-Jed Rubenfeld weaves a twisting and thrilling work of fiction as a physician, a female radiochemist, and a police official come to believe that the inexplicable attack is only part of a larger plan. It's a conspiracy that takes them from Paris to Prague, from the Vienna home of Sigmund Freud to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and ultimately to the depths of our most savage human instincts where there lies the shocking truth behind that fateful day.

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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
There's real life in the street scenes, and historical figures like Mayor John F. Hylan, United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and the F.B.I. director William J. Flynn figure credibly in the ingeniously plotted investigation conducted by Rubenfeld's fictional detectives…
—The New York Times Book Review
Susannah Meadows
Jed Rubenfeld's tremendous follow-up to his 2006 novel, The Interpretation of Murder…bustles with kidnapping, knife throwing, gun fighting, poisoning, bank robbery, corruption. The Death Instinct is that rare combo platter: a blast to read—you'll be counting how few pages you have left with dread, and you’ll do this before you're halfway done—and hefty enough to stay with you…This novel is great.
—The New York Times
Seth Stern
…another engaging whodunit that meticulously reconstructs early-20th-century New York.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The 1920 bombing of Wall Street, the most deadly act of terrorism in the United States until the Oklahoma blast of 1995, provides the framework for Rubenfeld's excellent follow-up to The Interpretation of Murder. The sweeping plot details the baffling hunt for those responsible for the death and injury of more than 400 New Yorkers. Numerous intriguing subplots snake out from the main story line, several of which bring such historical figures as Marie Curie, famous for her radium experiments, and Sigmund Freud, who had a significant role in the previous book, to life. Rubenfeld deftly wends his way through the shifting landscape with a historian's factual touch and a storyteller's eye for the dramatic and telling. Readers will be enthralled as Dr. Stratham Younger, the hero of The Interpretation of Murder--aided by his beautiful fiancée, scientist Colette Rousseau, and Det. James Littlemore--manages to solve the Wall Street bombing, something that the real authorities never did. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This action-packed historical thriller chronicles the real-life unsolved bombing of a Wall Street bank on September 16, 1920, that killed or injured more than 400 people. New York City police officer James Littlemore and World War I veteran Dr. Stratham Younger witness the explosion and get drawn into the investigation. Also present is Frenchwoman Colette Rousseau, who met Younger during the war when she had been trained by Madame Curie to operate a portable X-ray machine on the battlefields. Now she is visiting New York to raise money to buy radium for Curie's experiments, and several attempts have been made to kidnap her. Rubenfeld weaves together the story lines of the Wall Street bombing and the attacks on Rousseau, along with an extended flashback of Younger's experiences in France during the war. Sigmund Freud also makes a guest appearance, as he psychoanalyzes both Rousseau and her mute younger brother. VERDICT Rubenfeld's debut, The Interpretation of Murder, proved his skillful use of historical detail to create a compelling tale of psychological suspense. He's only gotten better. Strongly recommended for fans of Matthew Pearl, Caleb Carr, and other historical thriller authors. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/10.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib., CA
Kirkus Reviews

Terrorism, political conspiracies and financial shenanigans combine in the latest from Rubenfeld (The Interpretation of Murder, 2006, etc.).

The year is 1920, and it's a beautiful September day in New York City. Dr. Stratham Younger and Captain James Littlemore are escorting Colette Rousseau to lunch. Younger is a physician, a jaded veteran of the killing fields of World War I. Rousseau is a radiochemist, a technician trained by Madame Curie to use portable X-ray machines on the battlefields to diagnose the wounded. Suddenly a bomb explodes on Wall Street. Dozens are dead and hundreds are wounded. Littlemore is a police detective, and soon he and his friends are caught up in the mystery. The Federal Government blames anarchists. Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan Bank links the explosion to a banking embargo against Mexico. That evening Rousseau and Luc, her young brother, are mysteriously, briefly kidnapped. Rousseau then convinces Younger to sail with her to Europe to seek help from Dr. Sigmund Freud for Luc, mute since witnessing German soldiers murder his parents. There are hints of a romance between Younger and Rousseau, but Rousseau is worried about her brother, and she's also determined to find a former German soldier from her past. History buffs will enjoy Rubenfeld's introductions to assorted characters—Marie Curie, Serb assassins and movers-and-shakers from Woodrow Wilson's cabinet. Adding political and financial corruption to uncover, manipulators to expose and a war with Mexico to prevent might make the plot seem too complex, but no loose end is left untied, and only one or two insignificant anachronisms should trouble the most sophisticated reader.

An intriguing literary mystery mixing fact and fiction.

The Barnes & Noble Review

The Wall Street bombing which took place on September 16, 1920 was -- until 2001 -- the most deadly terrorist attack ever to strike New York City. In the immediate vicinity of the blast were the buildings of J. P. Morgan and Co., the world's most powerful financial institution; the U.S. Assay Office, which housed $900 million in gold; and the U.S. Sub-Treasury, while around the corner was the New York Stock Exchange. To complicate matters still further, a leaflet found nearby demanded the freeing of "political prisoners." Hundreds of policemen and FBI agents tried to identify the culprits and their motives, with Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists, Russians, and Italians all suspected in turn. No one claimed responsibility; to this day the case has never been officially solved.

The September 16th attack kick-starts Jed Rubenfeld's intelligent, fast-paced historical thriller The Death Instinct. Among the witnesses of the explosion are war surgeon Dr. Stratham Younger, his friend Captain James Littlemore of the NYPD, and Colette Rousseau, a radiochemist whom Younger met in France during the First World War, and who is in America trying to raise funds for her mentor, Marie Curie. Littlemore takes a professional interest in the Wall Street atrocity, finding himself caught between political, civic, and business forces. Each has secrets to hide and agendas to advance. Younger and Rousseau, meanwhile, are plunged into a separate series of crises and adventures: before the first sixty pages have elapsed there has been -- in addition to the Wall Street bombing -- a mysterious letter, a kidnapping, two murders, and the appearance of a hideously deformed woman who seems to be trying to send a message to Colette.

A lengthy flashback explaining how and when Younger and Rousseau first met slows things down momentarily. Once this is out of the way, however, Rubenfeld begins to develop the various plot strands that have been set in motion. His writing, too, becomes more assured, as when he describes a number of women who have daubed their eyes with luminous make-up, "creating paired circles of phosphorescence that turned the dark portal of the church into a kind of grotto from which nocturnal birds or beasts seemed to peer out." The teasing possibility of romance between Stratham and Colette is handled deftly, and the period color of post-War Paris, Vienna, and Prague provides a vivid backdrop, while various historical figures -- including Sigmund Freud, Madame Curie, Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, and FBI head "Big" Bill Flynn -- weave in and out of the plot. Freud is given the largest role, and makes perhaps the most disturbing comment in the novel, when he suggests to Younger that the perpetrators of the bombing are already dead. "You think they killed themselves in the blast -- deliberately," Younger says slowly, to which Freud replies "Maybe they did, maybe they didn't . . . . Maybe they'll give others the idea."

It's not the only time that Rubenfeld draws parallels between the events of 1920 and the present day. Indeed, he's at his best with the aftermath of the Wall Street explosion, blending fact and fiction seamlessly to create a gripping mystery. He is equally successful with the engaging, observant, tenacious, and dryly humorous Jimmy Littlemore. "Somebody has to" is his reply, when he's accused of playing by the rules. His dogged pursuit of the truth behind the events of September 16th, and his refusal to compromise, lends The Death Instinct its heart. A suggestion to the author: a series featuring the continuing adventures of Jimmy Littlemore. Perhaps he could investigate the disappearance of Judge Crater . . . .

--Barbara Roden

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101461501
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/20/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 440,507
  • File size: 609 KB

Meet the Author

Jed Rubenfeld is the author of the international bestseller The Interpretation of Murder. He is a professor at Yale University Law School and is one of the country’s foremost experts on constitutional law. He wrote his undergraduate thesis at Princeton University on Sigmund Freud. He lives in Connecticut with his family.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 50 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 15, 2011

    Heartwreching and Heartpounding!

    At 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920, a blast rocked the Financial District in New York City. To date, this crime has remained unsolved, but it is most often attributed to Galleanists (Italian anarchists). With 38 people killed and 400 others injured, the blast was the most horrific act of terrorism on US soil up to that point. Or was it? Dr. Stratham Younger and his friend NYPD Captain James Littlemore are in the area on the day of the blast. From the beginning, both feel there is more to this attack than meets the eye. As the story begins to unravel, their lives are on the line as they race to find out who is responsible for the attack. In his novel The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld weaves fiction and truth to create a different story of what occurred that day. With strong characters battling their own demons while wading through political and financial intrigue, Rubenfeld's novel is in turns heart-wrenching and heart-pounding. When I first started reading, I have to say that I was a little thrown off by what seemed to be innocuous bits of information thrown into the middle of the story line. When reading, it's probably a tendency to read those sections, think "huh?" and move on. After completing the novel, I realized there is a lot to be gleaned from those tidbits and nuggets that seem to be thrown into the mix with no rhyme or reason. At the end, I was still left with some that didn't seem to fit. However, when I finished reading, I had several "So THAT's why he wrote it" moments. The novel did take me some time to get into. There are sections throughout the novel where the storyline seems to drag. I was waiting for an outcome to a specific instance related in the story, and it took a lengthy time to arrive at that outcome in some instances. Overall, I really did enjoy reading Rubenfeld's novel. It is a solid story with enough intrigue and subterfuge to keep you guessing throughout. He keeps you interested by not giving information too early. It was late into the book before I started making connections for the story to play out. For me, that's the mark of a great suspense writer. This book was provided as a free review copy from the publisher.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Fact and Fiction

    Following the very favorably received “The Interpretation of Murder” with this ambitious novel using many of the same lead characters, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, and mixing the story with real historical personages and events, the author has created a historical piece of fiction with several mysteries intertwined. It begins with the detonation of a bomb-laden horse-drawn wagon at Broad and Wall Streets, the results of which can be seen today in the pockmarked outer wall of the House of Morgan opposite The New York Stock Exchange.

    While the perpetrators of the explosion have never been identified, nor the reason for the deed exposed, the plot attempts to propose a rationale, including a cast of characters, behind it. Along the way, other themes emerge, including the horrors on the World War I battlefront, the emergence of Freud’s controversial theory of a death instinct in humans, Madame Curie and the effects of radium, kidnapping, assassins, and various other developments.

    Well-plotted in a grand manner, the novel combines several genres and should appeal to a broad range of readers. It weaves into its themes mystery, thriller and history. What more can be said, except to heartily recommend?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2011

    Very informative and an excellent read.

    This book is very well written and tells the reader in the form of a novel about the bombing on Wall Street in the 1920s. It is uncanny how real the scenes are and the story flows rapidly. It is history but in the format of a novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2011

    Took too long to get to the good stuff

    I had high expectations going into reading this book. Unfortunately it took too long to get to the good stuff. I might even suggest the author could have eliminated a lot of pages that were not necessary. In the end, I am happy to have fnished the book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011


    I read this book because I saw the author on a talk show and found out that it is about a terrorist attack that the ordinary person has never heard of. It happened on September 16, 1920. Jed Rubenfeld has taken an event in history and turned it into an interesting fictional read. Some of the characters are historical (Madame Curie, Sigmund Freud), but most are the products of the author's imagination. It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but I do recommend it for character development and interest.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    Both my husband and I enjoyed this book immensely.

    Great plot(s), fascinating characters and a history lesson worth having. Who knew that Wall Street was blown up in 1920? Not so pleasant to realize that nothing ever really changes, though. I did enjoy seeing Big Bankers, Morgan especially, in action; Our congress as ineffectual and corrupt as ever, and realizing that Mexican oil played such a huge roll in our history.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    Enjoyed this detective/mystery romp through 1920's NYC , D.C. an

    Enjoyed this detective/mystery romp through 1920's NYC , D.C. and Austria/Hungary. Enjoyed the characters, both real (Freud, Curie) and fictitious. In no way was this a boring book. Good premise, who committed the still unsolved 1920 Wall St. bombing? So glad I didn't read the reviews here before reading this book, might have been turned off but it's a good quick read and kept me interested to see how they would get out of all the situations they end up in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012


    this book is horribly written and boring as hell....

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2012



    Boom... best historical fiction writers out there.

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  • Posted March 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Engrossing historical mystery - a thoroughly satisfying read!

    Jed Rubenfeld's The Death Instinct is a detective novel set in 1920s New York. World War I is over (but the Roaring 20s haven't arrived) and factories are closing, unemployment is rampant and Prohibition has just been imposed. In this environment of desperation and dissatisfaction, Wall Street explodes. New York City suffers the most destructive and deadly terrorist attack on US soil. Enter the war veteran and wealthy Boston Brahmin Dr. Stratham Younger, his colleague NY detective Jimmy Littlemore, and the beautiful and mysterious French physicist Colette Rousseau.

    In The Death Instinct, Rubenfeld has taken a historical event that remains unsolved - and created an engrossing tale of injustice, mystery, and adventure. Stratham, Colette and Jimmy follow the evidence from the streets of New York to the corridors of power in the Capitol to devastated Vienna and the war torn villages in Europe. They meet with Sigmund Freud, Madame Curie, and JP Morgan's right hand man, Lamont - and take readers on an engrossing and satisfying escape.

    ISBN-10: 1594487820 - Hardcover $26.99
    Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Reprint edition (January 20, 2011), 464 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

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  • Posted February 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    I picked up this book and was immediately intrigued by Rubenfeld's choice to utilize the bombing of the world trade center as a start point for this story. This turned out to be a really fun read for me, great story, I love how the book became more of a story about people and less about the bombing. I would recommend this to others.

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  • Posted February 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Ambitious Novel

    "The Death Instinct" by Jed Rubenfeld is a fictional thriller set in the 1920's. The book centers around the historical Wall St. bombing of 1916.

    American financial center in lower Manhattan has suffered the deadliest terrorist attack in the nation's history, an even which will change America.
    The date was September 16, 1920.

    World War I veteran Stratham Younger, NYPD Captain James Littlemore and French radiologist Colette Rosseau happen to be in the area. However, several inexplicable attacks on Collette lead the guys on a trail for buried secrets and hidden conspiracies.

    "The Death Instinct" by Jed Rubenfeld is an interesting and spellbinding book. The novel follows Stratham Younger and his friend NYPD Captain James Littlemore who are trying to find the responsible party for the 1920 Wall St. bombings.

    Mr. Rubenfeld keeps mixing up the fictional Younger & Littlemore with actual historical characters such as Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie as well as captains of industry and various government figures. The author doesn't just mix and match but uses the historical figures as well placed markers to advance the storyline and the plot. The book is meticulously researched, the post World War I era is brought to life and the shock the terror attack has caused is well described.

    The author places Younger & Littlemore at the scene of the attack, as well as Collette Rosseau, a French radiologist who studied under Madame Curie, and plunges our protagonists into a maze of twisted minds and politics (OK, I'll stop being redundant). The plot also revolves around the history of Younger and Rosseau, their first encounter and ensuing relationship and juxtaposed between the bloody World War I battlefields, war ravaged Europe and the corridors of power in Washington DC.

    As you can tell, this is a very ambitious novel. Weaving fact and fiction is always tricky especially when trying to explain Freud's theories coupled with doses of Curie's science and some good old fashioned trivia.
    It works!

    What most impressed me in this book was the confidence that Mr. Rubenfeld has in the reader. He simply doesn't write his theme but introduced ideas, some complex, while letting the reader figure out how to connect the dots.

    The facts behind the Wall St. bombing of 1920 are still shrouded in mystery. At the time Italian anarchists were blamed but no facts supported that theory.

    This book has recurring characters from Jed Rubenfeld's previous book "The Interpretation of Murder" but you need not read the books in order as the story lines are independent and the characters are reintroduced.

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