Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1967 by Dial.

J. D. idolizes his older brother Tom, a.k.a. the Great Brain, a silver-tongued con man who can turn even the most unlikely situation in to a profitable one. When Papa is the first in town to install indoor plumbing, Tom thinks of a way to make money off of it. When the Jenkins boys get lost in a cave, Tom saves the day—and lines his pockets in the bargain. And when the new teacher paddles him for not being a tattletale, the Great Brain comes up with an ingenious scheme to get rid of the paddle and the teacher.

Rating: 3/5

Quick note: This may very well be the last Series Week I ever do. I’m more used to now just reviewing each book in a series as I read it, rather than waiting and publishing them all at once. Plus, these are quite difficult to do and post.

Perhaps it won’t surprise you to hear that I read The Great Brain and its sequels over and over again as a child. I’ve said that many times before about many different books. However, this may be the first book series I’ve reviewed where the reason I read the books in the first place is not because I liked the cover or the subject, but because I wanted to read whatever my brothers were reading.

My brother was the one who had three Great Brain books, and that’s how I got started on this series. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read them, to be honest—at least three, but probably closer to five or six. Like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, these were “easy reads” for me; books I would pick up that I knew I could read fairly quickly, for the times when I was bored and had an hour to kill and didn’t know what else to do.

The Great Brain is perhaps a stronger type of historical fiction than most; I mean that in the sense that it really shows how different things were in 1896 (you’d think this would be obvious, but there is a bit of culture shock that goes on). Perhaps I noticed this because the book is so male-focused and much of the historical fiction I read is female-focused, so it was more jarring to me than some other things I’ve read.

I like the entire premise of the story: the conniving older brother who fools the kids and adults around him. Tom is an interesting character in that you both love and hate him; you love him when he does great things with his brain like saving the Jenkins’ boys and helping Andy cope with his peg leg, but you hate him when he swindles his friends and his brothers into giving him what he wants. Tom is manipulative, and J.D.’s innocence makes him an easy target, so J.D. is constantly being tricked by his brother.

Fitzgerald also manages to sneak in some sort of important theme in almost every chapter. The most sobering one is, perhaps, the chapter about Abie Glassman, which is basically a repudiation of antisemitism. It also features, however, one of the more annoying conversations J.D. has with Tom, where Tom pretty much says “everyone’s at fault except for me; he died because of people like you, J.D.” Although, knowing Tom, he may very well have been saying that to alleviate his own guilt. Who knows? The kid’s only about ten years old, after all. Kids do dumb things at age ten.

The Great Brain was a fun read, and an enjoyable reminder of me going into my brother’s room and grabbing the book from the shelf. Tom takes a little getting used to, as does the setting, but the messages are good and the story-telling itself is very strong.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here:

One thought on “Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

  1. Pingback: Series Week IX (The Great Brain): More Adventures of the Great Brain | Leaf's Reviews

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