Caleb Carr, Author of Dark Histories, Dies at 68

Caleb Carr, a military historian and author whose experience of childhood abuse drove him to explore the roots of violence — most famously in his 1994 best seller, “The Alienist,” a period thriller about the hunt for a serial killer in 19th-century Manhattan — died on Thursday at his home in Cherry Plains, N.Y. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, his brother Ethan Carr said.

Mr. Carr was 39 when he published “The Alienist,” an atmospheric detective story about a child psychiatrist — or an alienist, as those who studied the mind were called in the 1890s — who investigates the murders of young male prostitutes by using forensic psychiatry, which was an unorthodox method at the time.

Mr. Carr had first pitched the book as nonfiction; it wasn’t, but it read that way because of the exhaustive research he did into the period. He rendered the dank horrors of Manhattan’s tenement life, its sadistic gangs and the seedy brothels that were peddling children, as well as the city’s lush hubs of power, like Delmonico’s restaurant. And he peopled his novel with historical figures like Theodore Roosevelt, who was New York’s reforming police commissioner before his years in the White House. Even Jacob Riis had a cameo.

Up to that point, Mr. Carr had been writing, with modest success, on military matters. He had contributed articles to The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and he had written, with James Chace, a book about national security and, on his own, a well-received biography of an American soldier of fortune who became a Chinese military hero in the mid-19th century.

Mr. Carr had also been a regular contributor to the letters page of The New York Times; he notably once chastised Henry Kissinger for what Mr. Carr characterized as his outdated theories of international diplomacy. He was 19 at the time.

“The Alienist” was an immediate hit and earned glowing reviews. Even before it was published, the movie rights were snapped up by the producer Scott Rudin for half a million dollars. (The paperback rights sold for more than a million.)

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