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Peaches and Daddy

Kirkus Reviews: Lively, intelligently rendered account of a largely forgotten 1920s tabloid scandal. In gilded, pre-Depression New York City, real-estate tycoon and man about town Edward "Daddy" Browning courted and married "Peaches" Heenan, a 15-year-old aspiring flapper less than one-third his age. Debut author Greenburg zestfully recounts the sordid story of conspicuous consumption, outlandish antics for the benefit of a voracious press corps and—hardly ten months after the marriage—a divorce trial that challenged prevailing standards of decency. Neither wife nor husband emerges unscathed in his telling, and certainly not the yellow journalists who lapped up the scandal and dished it out to a titillated public in real time. Most of the book revolves around Daddy, a man whose eye for real estate helped shape the New York City skyline. His desperate need for publicity, however, bordered on the pathological, and his interest in young women cast even his charitable acts under a cloud of suspicion. Newly concerned with the social well-being of children, authorities attempted to thwart his 1926 marriage to Peaches and to take away the daughter adopted during a previous marriage. Peaches was no innocent victim. She gained Daddy's sympathy with self-inflicted scars and walked off with his money the moment she was able. Greenburg's blow-by-blow narrative, set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties' changing sexual mores, makes for riveting reading, especially since the author enriches it by ably recounting the parallel story of the rise of tabloid journalism. In a world continually shocked—and feigning disgust—by the doings of Britney and Paris, Peaches & Daddy provides a strange but certain comfort.


Publishers Weekly: Greenburg, an attorney and former editor of the Pepperdine Law Review, recalls a forgotten scandal in an exciting era. In 1926, Edward “Daddy” Browning, a 51-year-old New York City millionaire, fell for a 15-year-old “de facto high school dropout” named Frances Heenan, known as “Peaches.” They were married a month later, and within a year they were battling in the courtroom. Both Heenan, a “buxom girl” who had worked in various Manhattan department stores, and her millionaire “Daddy” were publicity hounds, and the newly popular tabloids were thrilled to bait readers with the lurid escapades of the “elderly vulgarian and his bride.” Months after Heenan (who was said to have spent $1,000 dollars a day shopping) left Browning, a sensational separation trial ensued, concluding in March 1927 in Browning’s favor, at least financially. Peaches turned to a career in vaudeville, but the media frenzy continued until Browning’s death in 1934. Greenburg offers an entertaining history of a scandal, coupled with a serious look at the infancy of tabloid journalism.


Booklist: Greenburg reaches back into the past to recount the scandal fueled by the nascent tabloid media that rocked the nation in the late 1920s. When 51-year-old New York millionaire Edward Daddy Browning met 15-year-old Frances Peaches Heenan, he was instantly smitten. Their fractured fairy tale had every ingredient it took to sell a story: money, romance, sex, and class divisions. The American public was spoon-fed every eccentric detail of this unlikely couple's hasty courtship, marriage, and separation by frenzied journalists eager to tap into the burgeoning tabloid craze. Much more than a curious slice of popular culture, the Peaches and Daddy mania that swept across the country signaled the advent of the gossip-driven media machine that still operates today.


The Boston Globe: The author tells an engrossing tale about the convergence of matrimony, journalism, and law in what has been called the Era of Wonderful Nonsense.






Kirkus Reviews: Fear, the city and one angry man. Greenburg (Peaches & Daddy: A Story of the Roaring ’20s, the Birth of Tabloid Media, and the Courtship that Captured the Hearts and Imaginations of the American Public, 2008) relates the gripping and bizarre story of George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” who, between 1940 and 1957, terrorized New York City with a series of pipe bombs placed in public restrooms, phone booths, theater seats and other public locations. Though his bombs caused no fatalities, 15 citizens sustained injuries, and Metesky’s elusion of the police engendered extreme anxiety in the populace and frustrated and humiliated the NYPD. In a clear, engaging style, Greenburg marshals the complex facts of the decades-long saga and paints a sympathetically three-dimensional portrait of Metesky, a paranoid schizophrenic with a long-held grudge against the Con Edison power company for failure to pay workman’s compensation after he sustained an injury in its employ. The manhunt would have far-reaching impact on police work, as desperate investigators turned to unconventional methods after being stymied in their pursuit; chief among these innovations was the decision to consult with prominent psychiatrist James Brussel in an attempt to infer personal details about the faceless terrorist through a sort of educated guesswork. Brussel’s contributions proved strikingly germane, and “criminal profiling” would become a key component in investigations ever after. Metesky’s legal battles after his capture would also prove influential, his tireless letter-writing campaign eventually leading to reforms in the handling of the criminally insane. A compelling account of a dangerously angry man and the investigation that helped to revolutionize modern police work.

Booklist: Between 1940 and 1957, a lone man detonated at least 33 bombs across New York City, with increasingly sophisticated mechanisms. As usual, the spree of this mad bomber brought out a parade of false claimants, false leads, and frustrating dead ends for investigators. Eventually, the police turned to Dr. James Brussel, a psychiatrist and criminologist who practiced an early form of profiling. Aided by Brussel's work, the investigation led to George Metesky, a middle-aged resident of Waterbury, Connecticut. Metesky fit the profile to a T: a loner nursing an increasingly bitter hatred of powerful institutions that he blamed for a disabling injury sustained in 1931. Greenburg, a practicing attorney, has written an exciting and tense true-crime story that operates on two tracks. He examines, with surprising sympathy, Metesky's slow evolution from a social misfit to a hate-filled violent man with paranoid delusions. Greenburg seamlessly shifts to the criminal investigators as they strive to stop the reign of terror. This is a superbly written account and a useful reminder that, historically, many terrorists have been apolitical men following their own inner demons.

New York Times: Mr. Greenburg nimbly recreates the tabloid frenzy — even The Times, fustier back then, referred to Mr. Metesky not as the Angry Bomber, but as the Mad Bomber, a title that Mr. Greenburg credits to Justin Gilbert in The Daily Mirror. And he follows that frenzy to its just conclusion: Mr. Metesky’s arrest in 1957 after planting at least 33 bombs (the sites included Pennsylvania Station, the RCA Building and midtown movie theaters), 22 of which exploded, injuring 15 people. The man and his enigmatic grin were embraced by the 1960s counterculture. “The idea of George Metesky had begun to take on an air of cult-hero intrigue,” Mr. Greenburg writes, attracted by the “populist message of one man against the entrenched and evil corporate Goliath” — in this case, Con Edison, against which Mr. Metesky harbored a longstanding grievance for a workplace injury.



Recipient, Massachusetts Book Award, 2015 “Must Read” Nonfiction Category.


Nominated for the 2015 American Revolution Round Table - Richmond book award.


The Dispatch (Columbus, MS): It is fair to say that Revere’s military and legal troubles are not secrets; if you know to look at Revere’s biography beyond his midnight ride, you can find them. Greenburg’s book, however, is possibly the best documented account, giving us a fuller picture of a human, not saintly, patriot.


Military Officer Magazine: Author Michael M. Greenburg offers both an insightful biography of Revere and a colorful description of the ‘worst American naval disaster prior to Pearl Harbor’ in this well-crafted history of a dark episode of the American Revolution.


Publisher’s Weekly: Readers interested in a realist school of history will find Greenburg's effort enlightening. 


Boston Globe: Four years after the ride that has defined Paul Revere for well over two centuries, he faced a bruising ordeal in the court of public opinion. It arose from the failure of the Penobscot Expedition to force the British from the coast of Maine. America’s entire naval fleet of 40 vessels was lost and at least 150 American men were killed or wounded during the battle. Michael M. Greenburg tells the story of this little-known chapter of US history in The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America’s Forgotten Military Disaster.

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