Edward Ball won the National Book Award for his first nonfiction work, "Slaves in the Family," (1998) based on his family's 170-year history as slave owners in South Carolina.

The book recounts the author's search for and meetings with the descendants of the people his family enslaved.

But he didn't stop there. Ball went on to publish four more books of nonfiction, including his newest, "The Inventor and the Tycoon."

Ball lives in Connecticut and teaches history and nonfiction writing part-time at Yale, but he admits he wasn't always drawn to history and writing biographies.

"I used to be a freelance art critic in New York in the '80s and '90s," he says. "I wrote about art and film and I did book reviews.

"Only in my mid-30s did I start writing books. I love writing history."

Set in frontier California nearly 140 years ago, "The Inventor and the Tycoon" tells the story of famed photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who is credited with inventing the breakthrough technology of moving pictures.

"I had always known about Eadweard Muybridge," Ball says.

"He's not a household name, but he's known in film history.

"I knew about his eccentric life and then I found he was a murderer, and with that discovery, it made me want to look closely at this figure.

"So that's what I did. His story is well-known if you're a student of film history, but even there, they don't care to talk about his crime.

"It's kind of written off. I thought it would be interesting to look at his life and make the crime central to his life."

But Muybridge is not the only star of Ball's story. Railroad tycoon and founder of Stanford University, Leland Stanford, became Muybridge's patron and hired the photographer to answer the question of whether the four hooves of a running horse left the ground all at once. The answer would be found with Muybridge's invention of moving pictures.

Ball says he had to have both men in the book to create the full story.

"Nothing would have happened without the partnership of these two guys. ... And I think what's interesting in their partnership is that they were nothing alike.

"Stanford was obsessed with money. Muybridge had holes in his shirts and wore old boots. They were completely different socially, and I found it interesting they could find common ground and do what they did."

Ball says he's "done quite a lot of work digging through archives," and he really takes pleasure in research.

"The similarity in writing 'The Inventor and the Tycoon' and writing 'Slaves in the Family' is that the records of plantations are sitting in archives just like these guys in California. ... You go to the archives and study these dusty old documents and try to extract a story from them.

"But with 'The Inventor and the Tycoon,' I didn't have a personal stake in Muybridge and Stanford, but I had a deep personal stake in telling the story of the Ball family and the people enslaved."

Ball admits people ask him for advice on researching families in the Lowcountry.

"I try to give some general lines of advice," he says. "More and more people ... are investigating their ancestry in the period before the Civil War. It's very different for an African American to research that time period ... For black folks, it's a much harder problem ... because slaves were not documented."

Ball is bringing his book "The Inventor and the Tycoon" to the Savannah Book Festival on Feb. 15 at the Telfair Rotunda. Not only is he looking forward to talking about the book, he says he is looking forward to returning to the city of his birth.

"I was born in Savannah," he says. "My dad was an Episcopal priest at St. Paul's and I lived at 34th and Abercorn.

"I'm looking forward to coming to my hometown, and I'm looking forward to telling the story of Muybridge and Stanford, because it's very juicy."