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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century » User review

A battle against domestic terror

  • Aug 30, 2008
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+5
American Lightning - Vine Book Review

Author Howard Blum has chronicled a recount of the "Crime of the Century" in American Lightning, a riveting account of the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building on October 1, 1910, the capture of the men responsible and their subsequent trial.

It is a narrative of the battle of the unionism versus capitalism and the violent outbreaks that occurred throughout the country, but most specifically that of the unions that held San Francisco in thrall and threatened to swallow Los Angeles as well.

A cast of personalities loom large on the landscape of Blum's epic. There's Harrison Gray Otis, owner of the LA Times and a staunch anti-unionist, filmmaker D.W Griffith, who will film his observations of the events for posterity, William J. Burns, America's greatest detective and noted attorney Clarence Darrow, defender of the two men held responsible for the bombings that claimed the lives of 21 men.

Behind the scenes is street fighting, a plot to unionize the country by facilitating hundreds of bombings in a wave of terror that threatens to engulf the country. And at home, the battle raged for the mayorship of Los Angeles between Socialist attorney Job Harriman and Mayor Alexander.

Blum's prose style is tight and spare. He covers scene masterfully with light description and deeper motivation to keep the reader turning pages. Along the way we learn about Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart, Samuel Gompers and the AFL. The early expansion of Los Angeles, its quest for water to supply the influx of residents are detailed. Most important, however, is Blum's portrayal of the three principal characters in this true life drama. We see their motivations, their genius and their flaws as the crime of the century is fleshed out and comes to its thrilling conclusion.

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More American Lightning: Terror, My... reviews
review by . September 01, 2008
Blum's ado is about less than the breathless title and subtitle of this nonfiction narrative. He weaves together thumbnail biographies of private investigator William Burns, film-maker D. W. Griffith, and lawyer Clarence Darrow as they pioneered the 20th-century essence of their professions and intersected during the investigation of the 1910 terrorist bombing of the Los Angeles Times building.    While the tale is moderately interesting, Blum's attempt to popularize the narrative …
review by . October 19, 2011
The
AMERICAN LIGHTNING propones the "crime of the century" (the bombing of the L.A. TIMES building in the early 1910s) to a modern audience. In short, a group of socialists went on a bombing spree in 1910 that culminated in the bombing of the TIMES building. The ringleaders of the crime were eventually caught by the famed private detective William J. Burns and their defense was led by famed lawyer Clarence Darrow. During the time of the bombing and the trial, D.W. Griffith made movies and …
review by . December 23, 2008
This spellbinding historical novel takes the reader on a fascinating journey back in time to turn of the century America. Howard Blum's book follows detective Billy Burns furtively across an America flirting with all-out class warfare as he tries to solve what Americans called at the time, 'the crime of the century'. (Americans had no idea what was in store for them later.) Burns, like all the other protagonists of the story, is a self-made man in a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred form of raw …
review by . September 18, 2008
The events and personalities recounted in "American Lightning" are probably all but unknown to most readers -- I consider myself relatively conversant with American history, but apart from "bigger" names like Darrow, Gompers, DW Griffith, and Mary Pickford, I knew almost nothing about any of this. This book could, therefore, almost be reviewed as a very well-crafted and well-executed novel. The fact that it's a work of history makes it all the more remarkable and valuable.    In …
review by . September 15, 2008
The 20th century has witnessed many different crimes, and a lot of them have been called "the crime of the century". Perhaps the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 in which 29 people died should be entitled the "first" crime of the century. This book is riveting in its detail of the background, the crime itself, and its aftermath. It also weaves skillfully into the story William Burns, the detective who investigated the case, Clarence Darrow, who defended the accused bombers, and …
review by . September 12, 2008
There's many crimes that have been described as the "Crime of the Century". Leopold and Loeb. The Scopes Monkey Trial. Sacco and Vanzetti. The Rosenbergs. The Lindburgh Kidnapping. The Patty Hearst Trial. The OJ Simpson Trial.    But the earliest of the these crimes, and the one in many ways most deserving of the appelation "Crime of the Century" was the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, and prior to this book, I'd never even heard of it.    This …
review by . September 10, 2008
Howard Blum has helped to remind us a largely forgotten crime and trial that mesmerized the nation. The story is of a terrorist bombing that killed 21 people at the LA Times building. This was a time in American's history when dynamite bombings were common but rarely deadly.      To solve the crime the city of Los Angeles hires the great "Billy Burns". Who is he you ask? The truth is he was a real life American Sherlock Holmes. Burns analysis of the case alone is …
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Suzanne Barrett ()
Ranked #117
A former facility engineer and Kensington author, Suzanne believes in sharing stories of romance and adventure spiced with a bit of mystery and intrigue. Suzanne and her husband live in the Santa Cruz … more
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Starred Review. 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, andVanity Faircontributing editor Blum (The Brigade) tells it with a novelist's flair. In an approach reminiscent of Truman Capote'sIn 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.)""
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Details

ISBN-10: 0307346943
ISBN-13: 978-0307346940
Author: Howard Blum
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Crown
First to Review
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