Scoundrel: Book summary and reviews of Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel

How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free

by Sarah Weinman

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman X
Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman
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Book Summary

From the author of The Real Lolita and editor of Unspeakable Acts, the astonishing story of a murderer who conned the people around him - including conservative thinker William F. Buckley - into helping set him free

In the 1960s, Edgar Smith, in prison and sentenced to death for the murder of teenager Victoria Zielinski, struck up a correspondence with William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review. Buckley, who refused to believe that a man who supported the neoconservative movement could have committed such a heinous crime, began to advocate not only for Smith's life to be spared but also for his sentence to be overturned.

So begins a bizarre and tragic tale of mid-century America. Sarah Weinman's Scoundrel leads us through the twists of fate and fortune that brought Smith to freedom, book deals, fame, and eventually to attempting murder again. In Smith, Weinman has uncovered a psychopath who slipped his way into public acclaim and acceptance before crashing down to earth once again.

From the people Smith deceived—Buckley, the book editor who published his work, friends from back home, and the women who loved him—to Americans who were willing to buy into his lies, Weinman explores who in our world is accorded innocence, and how the public becomes complicit in the stories we tell one another.

Scoundrel shows, with clear eyes and sympathy for all those who entered Smith's orbit, how and why he was able to manipulate, obfuscate, and make a mockery of both well-meaning people and the American criminal justice system. It tells a forgotten part of American history at the nexus of justice, prison reform, and civil rights, and exposes how one man's ill-conceived plan to set another man free came at the great expense of Edgar Smith's victims.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In this mesmerizing account, Weinman does a masterly job resurrecting a stranger-than-fiction chapter in American criminal justice...This instant classic raises disturbing questions about gullibility even on the part of the very bright." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The book is a must-read for true crime fans...An immediately absorbing story of crime, manipulation, and influence." - Library Journal (starred review)

"Weinman's book is not only a disturbing study in how 'brilliant people' and the institutions they serve can be successfully conned. It is also a reminder of how society has always used talent as a way to excuse male acts of aggression and violence against women. Wholly compelling reading from an author well versed in the true-crime genre." - Kirkus Reviews

"Weinman does an impeccable job with this wild story of murder, celebrity, politics, and the American ability to put unsavory characters on a pedestal." - Literary Hub

"In the court of public opinion, a woman who devotes herself to freeing an imprisoned murderer, only to regret unleashing a sociopath on society, is often judged a victim of her own desperation as much as a man's manipulation, but what about the eminent public intellectual who uses his platform to do the same thing? Sarah Weinman defies the genre of true crime in this extraordinary book about a cause célèbre gone terribly wrong." - Alexis Coe, New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

"Sarah Weinman has taken a minor footnote in American history—conservative icon William F. Buckley's strange friendship with (and advocacy for) a convicted murderer—and spun a breathtaking narrative about the criminal justice system, betrayal, and our culture of celebrity. Brilliantly reported and immensely readable, Scoundrel is a smart social commentary with all the twisted pleasures of a psychological thriller. I defy you to put it down." - Abbott Kahler, author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park

This information about Scoundrel shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman is the author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece, and the editor, most recently, of Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit & Obsession. She is a 2020 National Magazine Award finalist for reporting and a Calderwood Journalism Fellow at MacDowell, and her work has appeared most recently in New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and the Washington Post. Weinman writes the crime column for the New York Times Book Review and lives in New York City.

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