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Recalling a significant but little known chapter in American history

  • Sep 30, 2009
"As it grew, New York had become not a melting pot but a city of extremes: the capital of capitalism and of radicalism, of wealth and poverty, of high-minded reform and pragmatic enterprise, of the war effort and the antiwar crusade.  Its very success as a magnet for the rich as well as the poor, for left as well as right, made it a city of frequent discord, a place where the conflicts of the rest of the nation--indeed of much of the world--were compressed into a few square miles."   This quotation, lifted from page 21 of Beverly Gage's compelling new book "The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America In Its First Age of Terror" seems to capture precisely what was happening in New York City in the year 1920.  On September 16th of that year an explosion took place at high noon in the heart of Wall Street right across the street from the Morgan Bank.  The results were devasting. Thirty nine people were killed that day and hundreds more injured. The tiny 100 bed hospital that served the area was ill-prepared for the casualties.  Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995 it was the deadliest terrorist attack in American history and yet very few Americans have ever even heard of it.  "The Day Wall Street Exploded" explores what was taking place in our country at that juncture in our history and attempts to determine who might have been responsible for this heinous act. It is compelling reading.

Now in order to help her readers to fully comprehend the environment in which these events took place Beverly Gage opens "The Day Wall Street Exploded" with an extensive history of radical thought in America.  You will meet many of the prominent radical activists of the day including Big Bill Hayward, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Eugene Debs and Luigi Galleani to name but a few.  Not all radicals were advocating the same ideas.  There were socialists, communists and anarchists. They had come to America from countries like Germany, Italy, Russia and France.  What they all shared in common was a hatred for industrialists and for the money men on Wall Street.  Given the tenor of the times it is remarkable that a lot more violence did not occur during this extremely volatile period.  But make no mistake, there had been violence.  The famous Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886 had started out as a rally in support of striking workers.  Someone threw a bomb into the crowd and eight policemen and an undetermined number of civilians were killed. Beverly Gage also discusses other significant terrorist incidents including the McNamara Affair and the May Day bomb conspiracy which had targeted Jack Morgan and dozens of other businessmen and politicians.  Finally, based on thousands of pages of Bureau of Investigation reports "The Day Wall Street Exploded" traces our governments four year hunt for the perpetrators of Wall Street bombing.  You will be introduced to the public officials who led the investigation and learn of some of the highly questionable tactics they employed to try to get a break in the case.

I found "The Day That Wall Street Exploded" to be an exceptionally well written book.  Meticulously documented,  Beverly Gage leaves no stone unturned in her effort to figure out just what went down on that long ago September afternoon.  While this is a "must read" for history buffs it is also a book that general audiences should enjoy as well.     Highly recommended!

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Just after noon on September 16, 1920, as hundreds of workers poured onto Wall Street for their lunchtime break, a horse-drawn cart packed with dynamite exploded in a spray of metal and fire, turning the busiest corner of the financial center into a war zone. Thirty-nine people died and hundreds more lay wounded, making the Wall Street explosion the worst terrorist attack to that point in U.S. history.
In The Day Wall Street Exploded , Beverly Gage tells the story of that once infamous but now largely forgotten event. Based on thousands of pages of Bureau of Investigation reports, this historical detective saga traces the four-year hunt for the perpetrators, a worldwide effort that spread as far as Italy and the new Soviet nation. It also takes readers back into the decades-long but little-known history of homegrown terrorism that shaped American society a century ago. The book delves into the lives of victims, suspects, and investigators: world banking power J.P. Morgan, Jr.; labor radical "Big Bill" Haywood; anarchist firebrands Emma Goldman and Luigi Galleani; "America's Sherlock Holmes," William J. Burns; even a young J. Edgar Hoover. It grapples as well with some of the most controversial events of its day, including the rise of the Bureau of Investigation, the federal campaign against immigrant "terrorists," the grassroots effort to define and protect civil liberties, and the establishment of anti-communism as the sine qua non of American politics.
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ISBN-10: 019514824X
ISBN-13: 978-0195148244
Author: Beverly Gage
Genre: History
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date Published: January 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
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