Book & Author

The Alienist

The year is 1896, and a serial killer is loose in New York City.

His targets are poor young boys working as transvestite prostitutes. While the general public has little interest in the victims, Chief of Police Theodore Roosevelt wants the murderer stopped. He assembles a clandestine group of amateur detectives to track the killer.

Caleb Carr

Caleb Carr is the critically acclaimed author of The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, The Lessons of Terror, Killing Time, The Devil Soldier, The Italian Secretary, The Legend of Broken, and Surrender, New York. He has taught military history at Bard College, and worked extensively in film, television, and the theater. His military and political writings have appeared in numerous magazines and periodicals, among them The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in upstate New York.

Hear Carr explain how he came to write the Alienist, in this interview with Charlie Rose.

Quote from the book

The defenders of decent society and the disciples of degeneracy are often the same people.


Topics The Alienist will bring up for discussion include:

  • Everything we see, hear and learn comes from John. Do the group’s members think he is a reliable narrator?
  • How did the group members react to the historical details and people portrayed in the book – did they enjoy these scenes or question their authenticity?
  • What so the members of the group think of the murderer?  Is he a monster, a tormented child acting out, or something else?  Were his actions justified or understandable?

More discussion questions are available from the Jervis Public Library.


A dedicated fan of the Alienist books has put together an amazing website called 17th Street which your group will definitely want to check out.  Check out the detailed timeline with pictures and references to historical events that are related to the book.  Have a friendly competition among your group members by taking the Alienist quiz together and seeing who gets the best score.  Check out the Alienist maps which show you exactly where in New York City and other locales the events of the book occur.  And much, much more!’

The 17th Steet website also has a list of food mentioned in the Alienist (and it’s sequel – The Angel of Darkness).    For those that serve food and drinks at their meeting this will provide a lot of inspiration.  I see several options from the “take away” supper the group enjoys at Delmonico’s at the end of the book – such as Neapolitan ice cream, rice pudding, and lobster-and-shrimp salad.