Loss of Eden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Milton may devote a disproportionate amount of space—more than one hundred pages—to the events surrounding the kidnapping and murder, the investigation, and the trial in her attempt to confirm Bruno Hauptmann’s guilt. The publisher, HarperCollins, describes the extensive background material about Hauptmann as, “new information,” and these facts never fail to hold interest. However, they merge somewhat awkwardly with the larger purpose of the biography by shifting attention from the personalities of the Lindberghs. The desire to uncover new data about one of the most notorious crimes of the century nearly makes the author forget that her real theme, as suggested by the title, is the disillusioning impact the event had on the Lindberghs and, indirectly, on the nation itself.

Consequently, the chapters that concentrate on the human element, though less sensational, are the most effective. These sections describe the formative years of both figures, the transatlantic flight and its aftermath, the couple’s sojourn in England after the Hauptmann trial, and Lindbergh’s isolationist efforts in the years preceding World War II. Milton penetrates closely to the elusive personalities of these two private and initially naive people. She shows how, being shy, the Lindberghs were often perceived as aloof and haughty. Milton’s judgments appear unfailingly sound. The emerging picture, as Milton describes it, is of two “amateurs in a world in which amateurism had become obsolete.”