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The Great Brain by J. D. Fitzgerald

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On a recent road trip, we listened to The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. It was a popular book among my peers back in elementary school, and I thought it would be fun to remember this story.

Synopsis: The story is set about 1896 in a small town in southwestern Utah. Told from the point of view of the youngest boy of three (John or J D), it tells of several experiences where his older brother Tom (or T D) uses his "Great Brain" to take advantage people and situations. John is about 8 years old. Tom is about 10 and very, what we might call, "entrepreneurial." From selling tickets to see a working toilet, to selling puppies that technically aren't his, to selling his services teaching boys to fight, Tom uses his "Great Brain" to find financial advantage everywhere he can. This tendency finds him frequently on the wrong side of swindling others instead of making an honest penny. Through the experiences described, Tom learns a little about doing things just because they are right and not always about making money.

A few observations: For an LDS forum, the book is told from the point of view of a non-Mormon living a dominantly Mormon small town. Some of the differences between Mormons and non-Mormons are mentioned, but they don't take center stage (except maybe in the case of the death of Avy, the Jewish shopkeeper).

The chapter where Tom teaches his friend to fight highlighted for me a theme I've seen discussed occasionally over the last few years how boys might be at a disadvantage in modern society because we try to prevent them from developing like boys (where fighting is a way to develop self-confidence and social standing, for example).

It doesn't appear that the youngest boys name of J. D. Fitzgerals id an accident. The cover of the book claims that the book is based on experiences the author had with an older brother named Tom. It doesn't claim to be autobiographical, so it is difficult to know what really happened and how much is "poetic license." It is a pretty good book about life in rural Utah around the turn of the 20th century told from the perspective of a young boy.

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