Captains and the Kings is a far-sighted novel

Who'd think Captains and the Kings so low key?
Staid all-type dust jacket belies the explosive story of Captains and the Kings.

Taylor Caldwell read the news and saw the future.

In Captains and the Kings, she tells the story of a boy who came to America to escape the Irish famine in the early 1850s.

By the time he arrived, he was 12, an orphan with a younger brother and infant sister to care for, and America didn’t want any more Irish.

Both honest and ruthless, as “Joe Francis” teenage Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh outsmarted and outworked men twice his age.

Brains and discipline put him in the way of luck.

Friends were unwaveringly loyal to him.

Women fell for him.

His children loved him, though he did nothing to win their love.

What makes Captains and the Kings an unusual historical novel is that Caldwell puts Joseph into situations where wealthy men behind the scenes plot how to quite literally take over the world.

Their plan includes the establishment of income taxes in every country in the world, extermination of the middle class via taxation, and “prudently scheduled” wars around the world “to absorb the products of our growing industrial and technological society.”

Captains and the Kings has an exciting plot interwoven with a powerful message for readers with the guts to take it in.

Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1972. Book Club Edition. 695 p.
1972 bestseller #7. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Saratoga Trunk side-steps great story for mere diversion

Edna Ferber’s Saratoga Trunk holds the germ of a great novel for another author to write.

The novel opens with a a press conference. “Colonel” Clint Maroon wants to tell how industrialists ripped off America. As his wife predicted, reporters won’t listen.

The rest of the novel is a flashback to how Clint and Clio Dulaine met in New Orleans, fell in love, and decided to pool their resources to get rich quick.

Clio sent Clint off to Saratoga Springs, New York,  posing as an authority on railroads to set up a scam among the millionnaires. She followed posing as a widowed French countess.

Clio’s scam might have worked, except that Clint found his Texas intimidation skills an easier avenue to big money than playing poker.

Saratoga Trunk is a real page turner. Ferber’s narrative has more bubble and vitality than Saratoga water. Even its historical characters are all larger than life. Saratoga Springs itself sparkles as the American playground of the rich and famous in the 1870s.

But the real story—the one Clint wanted to tell—gets shunted aside. Taylor Caldwell would have made a good novel from this material. Edna Ferber merely made an entertaining one.

Saratoga Trunk
by Edna Ferber
Doubleday, Doran
1941 bestseller #9
My grade: C+
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni