American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, Movie-Making, and the Crime of the Century
Booklist Reviews 2008 August #1
*Starred Review* On October 1, 1910, an explosion destroyed the offices of the Los Angeles Times, killing 20 workers and injuring many others. Was it the work of the greedy publisher, a despiser of organized labor, in an attempt to collect insurance money for another scheme and frame radical labor, or was it part of a nationwide chain of explosions set by radical Socialists? Whatever the truth, it was a dramatic crossroads of violent dissent between labor and capital in America as each side eyed the other suspiciously. Into the fray stepped famed investigator William J. Burns, enlisted to find the perpetrators, and crusading lawyer Clarence Darrow, who defended a pair of brothers deeply involved in the workers' rights movement. Filmmaker D. W. Griffith also had a hand in the debate with films depicting labor hardships. Blum, critically acclaimed author of The Gold of Exodus (1998) and The Brigade (2001), traces the investigation from San Francisco to Wisconsin to Indianapolis to Chicago, then chronicles the trial and its aftermath, building suspense with an astonishing cast of characters in the unfolding drama of the American labor movement. Completely riveting. Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2008 May #2
The "crime of the century" was the October 1, 1910, explosion in the offices of the Los Angeles Times, intended as an attack on 100 cities, that led to serious conversation about the limits of liberty. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
LJ Reviews 2008 June #2
On October 1, 1910, in the midst of a massive labor dispute, the Los Angeles Times building was destroyed in an explosion that left 20 people dead and many more injured. As other, similar bombs were found, it was obvious that this was not a single malicious act but a nationwide conspiracy by members of the national Iron Workers union. The hunt was on for the perpetrators. The ensuing investigation and trial brought in master detective William Burns on one side and famed attorney Clarence Darrow on the other. The trial pitted labor against management and the rich against the working class and brought out unethical behavior in both the prosecution and the defense. Adding to the carnival atmosphere were new developments in California's nascent moving picture industry, as D.W. Griffith was discovering that carefully crafted persuasive films could profoundly effect the emotions of the audience, creating a new medium for reformers—and propagandists. Though the ink given to Griffith here is somewhat out of proportion to his relevance to the story, it adds interest to this riveting account of 20th-century homegrown political terrorism. For public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/08.]—Deirdre Bray Root, Middletown P.L., OH[Page 81]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2008 June #2
In 1911, Iron Workers Union leaders James and Joseph McNamara plea-bargained in exchange for prison sentences instead of death after bombing the offices of the Los Angeles Times —killing 21 people and wounding many more. The bombing had been part of a bungled assault on some 100 American cities. After the McNamaras went to jail, Clarence Darrow, their defense attorney, wound up indicted for attempting to bribe the jury, but won acquittal after a defense staged by the brilliant Earl Rogers. The McNamaras were investigated by William J. Burns—near legendary former Secret Service agent and proprietor of a detective agency. Surprisingly, Burns's collaborator in the investigation was silent film director D.W. Griffith. This tangled and fascinating tale is the stuff of novels, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Blum (The Brigade ) tells it with a novelist's flair. In an approach reminiscent of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Blum paints his characters in all their grandeur and tragedy, making them—and their era—come alive. Blum's prose is tight, his speculations unfailingly sound and his research extensive—all adding up to an absorbing and masterful true crime narrative. (Sept.)[Page 39]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.