|
Movies Books Music Food Tv Shows Technology Politics Video Games Parenting Fashion Green Living more >

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

The "Crime of the Century" and Some Guy Who Made Movies

  • Oct 19, 2011
Rating:
+2
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 became a famous director.

The book is well written, rather informative, and sometimes engaging. I personally enjoyed the story of Billy Burns and his search for the bombing conspirators the best. AMERICAN LIGHTNING jumps from telling Burns story to telling Darrow's story and every once in a while is interrupted by the tale of D.W. Griffith. Darrow's and Burn's stories intersect, but neither really has any connection to Griffith. I originally wanted to read AMERICAN LIGHTNING because I am a huge film buff and love the history of the medium. However, though I enjoyed reading about Griffith's struggles and rise to fame and fortune, it was out of place from the rest of the book. The main focus of the book is the L.A. TIMES bombing trial and I feel AMERICAN LIGHTNING would have been stronger if the author focused on that; the parts about Griffith seem more like the filler a college student uses to expand their term paper to the length needed to get a good grade and though the information is educational, it muddies the central focus.

Blum tries to present a balanced look to the trial, though it's evident from the way he describes the bombers and treats Darrow that he favors them and their cause over that of Billy Burns. It's made clear that Burns was an excellent detective, but AMERICAN LIGHTNING suggests that the central reasons he took the case were for fame and fortune. Those probably were factors in Burns's drive to solve the case, but the primary motive was probably something much more simple and honorable: Burns wanted to get his men and see justice done. He was a better detective than the police and he (and most of America) knew it. Why wouldn't you want the best detective working on the "crime of the century"?

Anyway, I enjoyed reading AMERICAN LIGHTNING, but it wasn't really the book I thought it would be. The story is supposed to be about three famous men from the early 1900s and the reader is led to believe that they all met. Though they did meet after the trial was over, it was in passing and not the climax the book builds it up to be (there's a reason this meeting is the epilogue). The stories of Burns, Darrow, and Griffith are all fascinating, but the inclusion of Griffith seems unnecessary. I'd recommend AMERICAN LIGHTNING for those interested in early 1900 American history, those interested in 20th century crime in America, and those who have any interest in the three featured characters of the book: Burns, Darrow, or Griffith.
The

What did you think of this review?

Helpful
0
Thought-Provoking
0
Fun to Read
0
Well-Organized
0
Post a Comment
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 . 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 …
review by . August 30, 2008
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 …
About the reviewer

Ranked #39
I like to read and watch movies.
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

You
tomtom13
Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this book

Wiki

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.)""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
view wiki

Details

ISBN-10: 0307346943
ISBN-13: 978-0307346940
Author: Howard Blum
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Crown
First to Review
© 2014 Lunch.com, LLC All Rights Reserved
Lunch.com - Relevant reviews by real people.
()
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since
reviews
comments
ratings
questions
compliments
lists