“American Lightning,” book for November 2008

"American Lightning" by Howard Blum

The book for November 2008 is “American Lightning” by Howard Blum.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
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, 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.) “”
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.”

From Bookmarks Magazine
Most critics were eager to learn more about this neglected event in American history and were glad to have Blum as their teacher. They were most impressed by the first half of the book, which covers the attacks and investigation and which was several times compared to a Hollywood thriller or an episode of the television show 24. Reviewers were less thrilled by the second part of the book, where Blum introduces Darrow and Griffith into the story. Several felt that these great American personalities were presented superficially, perhaps because Blum attempted too great a scope in the book. But on the whole, critics found American Lightning to be a satisfying work of narrative history.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Review
“An unforgettable tale of murder, deceit, celebrity, media manipulation, and film as propaganda, when the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building exposed the deadly ‘national dynamite plot’ by trade unionists to terrorize America with one-hundred bombings in a doomed attempt to force capitalism to its knees. The relentless pursuit, capture, trial, and punishment of the bombers made a national hero of America’s Sherlock Holmes, master detective Billy Burns, and entangled crusading defense lawyer Clarence Darrow in a reckless, nearly career-ending scheme to bribe witnesses and jurors and throttle justice. Gripping, surprising, often thrilling, American Lightning ranks among the most riveting works of narrative history.”
—James L. Swanson, author of the Edgar Award-winning New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’sKiller

“This is a wonderful story, with a cast of characters out of a Cecil B. DeMille epic, told in a style that is lucid, lyrical, even electric. Narrative history at its very best.”
—Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Founding Brothers and American Creation

“In an approach reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Blum paints is 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.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“The author’s eye for scene-setting and subtle explication perfectly mimics a Griffith-style camera. Blum is at his best when exploring the motivations, the genius and the deep flaws of his three principals, men who occupied the same room only once in their lives, but who are memorably linked in this book. Unfailingly entertaining.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“In American Lightning Howard Blum brings to life the tragic bombing of the Los Angeles Times in l910. Writing with narrative verve and finely-honed detective instincts, Blum fleshes out the real story behind this hideous act of domestic terrorism. Highly recommended!”
—Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Deluge and Tour of Duty and Professor of History, Rice University
 
“Howard Blum has given us a fascinating–and hugely entertaining–glimpse into early 20th-century America. The burgeoning labor movement, the dawn of the movies, bomb-toting anarchists, ‘the crime of the century,’ gimlet-eyed private detectives, Clarence Darrow,  you name it and it’s here. And–eat your hearts out, novelists–it’s all true.”
—John Steele Gordon, author of Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power

“As good a true-crime tale as you could hope to find, well-researched, vivid, irresistible.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of the National Book Award-winning The Noonday Demon

“Howard Blum has performed a literary miracle. He has brought back to vivid and relevant life a forgotten act of terrorism in America’s past — and made it as suspenseful and crowded with unforgettable characters as any novel I have ever read.”
—Thomas Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of The Officers’ Wives, Time and Tide and The Perils of Peace

American Lightning strikes at the soul of Los Angeles the way Ragtime revealed turn-of-the-century New York. Like E. L. Doctorow, Howard Blum has captured a time and a place through masterful manipulation of true events, weaving an intricate tale of class war and intrigue that harks back to an era when L.A. was little more than a pueblo, frontier justice still prevailed and a fabulous cast of real-life characters dragged the future metropolis kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.”
—Dennis McDougal, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood and Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the LA Times Dynasty

“Master detective William Burns on one side and famed attorney Clarence Darrow on the other…A riveting account of 20th century homegrown political terrorism.”
Library Journal

Product Description
It was an explosion that reverberated across the country—and into the very heart of early-twentieth-century America. On the morning of October 1, 1910, the walls of the Los Angeles Times Building buckled as a thunderous detonation sent men, machinery, and mortar rocketing into the night air. When at last the wreckage had been sifted and the hospital triage units consulted, twenty-one people were declared dead and dozens more injured. But as it turned out, this was just a prelude to the devastation that was to come.

In American Lightning, acclaimed author Howard Blum masterfully evokes the incredible circumstances that led to the original “crime of the century”—and an aftermath more dramatic than even the crime itself.

With smoke still wafting up from the charred ruins, the city’s mayor reacts with undisguised excitement when he learns of the arrival, only that morning, of America’s greatest detective, William J. Burns, a former Secret Service man who has been likened to Sherlock Holmes. Surely Burns, already world famous for cracking unsolvable crimes and for his elaborate disguises, can run the perpetrators to ground.

Through the work of many months, snowbound stakeouts, and brilliant forensic sleuthing, the great investigator finally identifies the men he believes are responsible for so much destruction. Stunningly, Burns accuses the men—labor activists with an apparent grudge against the Los Angeles Times’s fiercely anti-union owner—of not just one heinous deed but of being part of a terror wave involving hundreds of bombings.

While preparation is laid for America’s highest profile trial ever—and the forces of labor and capital wage hand-to-hand combat in the streets—two other notable figures are swept into the drama: industry-shaping filmmaker D.W. Griffith, who perceives in these events the possibility of great art and who will go on to alchemize his observations into the landmark film The Birth of a Nation; and crusading lawyer Clarence Darrow, committed to lend his eloquence to the defendants, though he will be driven to thoughts of suicide before events have fully played out.

Simultaneously offering the absorbing reading experience of a can’t-put-it-down thriller and the perception-altering resonance of a story whose reverberations continue even today, American Lightning is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

About the Author
HOWARD BLUM is the author of eight previous books, including the national bestsellers Wanted!, The Gold of Exodus, and Gangland. Currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, Blum was also a reporter at the New York Times, where he won numerous journalism awards and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting.

Advertisement

1 Comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, History, Journalism, Life, Literature, Reading, Writers

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Jane Austen never goes out of style.  Several new books and movies about her and her books have recently appeared.  To help us sort these out, Arti at Ripple Effects has posted two great articles about two Austen biographies and one Austen biographical novel. One is a biography by Carol Shields, called “Jane Austen,” which I’ve read and enjoyed.  

Arti has also re-posted two articles about Jane Austen’s town of Bath, including many of his own gorgeous photographs of Bath, England. (Link below and on blogroll.)

Our book club read “The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler, and I recently saw the movie “Becoming Jane,” which attempts to fill in some of the blanks of Jane Austen’s life.   I’m not alone in confessing that I’ve seen every movie and television adaptation of Austen’s work.   She first published anonymously, but now she’s known and admired worldwide almost two centuries after her death.  She wrote about her own small world, but she speaks to the concerns of everyone, even if they only know her from the screen and not from the printed page.

To read Arti’s articles go to Ripple Effects   Arti’s blog is also on the Blatherblog blogroll. Currently, the Austen articles are at the top of Ripple Effects, but if you come to this late (What are you waiting for? Go there now!) you can use Art’s search box. Also, you can take a poll to vote on which of Austen’s heroines she was most like.  Post a comment here to tell me who your choice.  (I voted for E. D., but don’t that influence you, ha, ha.) Cathy

1 Comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, History, Life, Literature, Reading, Writers

“The Little Book”

Here’s a review of “The Little Book” from The Washington Post:  Back to the Future. This is one of our two books for October.

One fun aspect this book for me was that the main character, Wheeler Burden, is descended from Myles Standish, because my sister-in-law Janet is a “nonfiction” descendant of Myles Standish.   The thousands of Standish descendants have kept track of one another by way of elaborate charts.  The author apparently made the protagonist a Standish as a short-hand way of saying he was a blueblood.

Some Americans like to look for our own version of royalty, so they go back to the first settlers or to other famous people.  During political campaigns, geneologists trot out charts proving that one candidate is related to some other famous person or even an opposing candidate, such as the distant cousinship of Barack Obama and Dick Cheney.  We’re all related to one another in some way!  None of this directly pertains to the book except that “The Little Book” is full of relationship entanglements.  You might need a chart. Cathy

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, History, Life, Literature, October 2008 Books, Reading, Writers

The Story Behind Edgar Sawtelle

This field of a vast crop of sunflowers is a tribute to Henry Lamb, one of the characters in "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle."

This is a book mostly about dogs and their people, but I posted this photograph of this field of a vast crop of sunflowers as a tribute to Henry Lamb, one of the characters in "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." Lamb's choice of sunflowers as a crop made Lamb unusual in a life he said many described as ordinary. (Also, I thought it was a gorgeous scene when I drove past this field on September 19 near Quapaw, Oklahoma.)

Here is the link to David Wroblewski’s the story behind “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.”  Our book club read this book as our September choice and we unanimously agreed we would recommend it.  Seldom are we all in accord!  Oprah now has decided to jump on our bandwagon and has recommended it for her book club, too.

David Wroblewski’s website is www.davidwroblewski.com, which has biography information and reviews.

David Wroblewski, author of "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle."

David Wroblewski.

 Janet Maslin’s review of the book from the New York Times: Talking to Dogs, Without a Word

 A story about the author in the New York Times: This Summer’s Dog Days Suit One Novelist Fine  It also includes links to other articles.

Oprah copies our book club:  Oprah Makes Her Pick  Cathy

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Blather, Book Club, Books, Dogs, Humor, Life, Literature, New York Times Book Review, Oprah's Book Club, Random, Reading, September 2008 Book, Uncategorized, Writers

Fisticuffs over Edgar Allan Poe’s Body

Edward Pettit, an Edgar Allan Poe Scholar, argues that Poe’s body belongs in Philadelphia where he wrote many of his works not in Baltimore, where he’s buried because he happened to die there — under strange circumstances.  On January 13, Pettit is going to square off against Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore.  January 19, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth.

Jerome says he’ll argue with grace and facts and then walk over to Pettit like a gentleman and punch him square in the face.

For more about the story go to my blog at this link Philadelphia and Baltimore Fight Over Edgar Allan Poe’s Body.  There’s also a link on my blog to a story about it in the New York Times.  I’m too lazy to re-write it all here.  Cathy

1 Comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, History, Humor, Literature, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers

Guns, Germs and Steel

Our book club read Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which turned out to be one of the books I have recommended the most often to people.  Although I didn’t completely agree with all of Diamond’s points (he has the Pulitzer prize, I don’t), the book is an extremely thought-provoking discussion of the forces that have shaped human history for the past 10,000 years.

Different factors may turn out to be more important in human history than Diamond stressed, while others will turn out not to be so significant.  Nevertheless, Diamond drew together information from so many sources and combined and analyzed it with a fresh perspective.

PBS televised a version of the book in 2005.  It has an interactive site that allows you to examine and review some of Diamond’s arguments.  There’s also an interactive map of the Earth’s continents. When you click on a location, you can learn about its climate, vegetation, wildlife and more. Cathy

Here’s the link: Guns, Germs and Steel interactive website on PBS. 

This is a review of Diamond’s book Collapse, which also discusses Guns, Germs and Steel:A Question of Blame When Societies Fall.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Club, Books, History, Literature, Reading, Writers

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe was recently featured in the Sept. 8, 2008, Time Magazine.

In 1998, we read Tom Wolfe’s recently published “A Man in Full,” a heavy tome that I’ve just gotten from the shelf and dusted off. I remember it was hot enough off the press then that I had to buy the thing. The waiting list at the library was too long. 

Mostly what I remember about the book was a scene at a horse stud farm.  It starts on page 301 in the 1998 first trade edition.  This is a G rated blog, so I’m sorry I can’t share it with you here.  There are four audio and seventeen print copies available at our library,  and probably some copies at your own library, if you’re curious.

We read another horse-related book, Jane Smiley’s “Horse Heaven,” which I liked better.  From Smiley’s book I learned about calming ponies and companion animals for race horses, which can also apply to humans just as easily.

In Time Magazine, Wolfe answered Ten Questions.  Here’s the link. The ’60s classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test celebrates its 40th anniversary.    He talks about New Journalism and Hunter S. Thompson.  I wrote about Wolfe and Thompson in a post called There Will Be Blog. 

I didn’t read the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but I did take on Bonfire of the Vanities even before the movie came out.  In 1987, while traveling, my husband chose a seat next to Wolfe in the Boston airport. I would have chosen to sit farther away, since Wolfe looked so spiffy in his customary white suit, and I looked so scruffy after a day roaming the city on foot and on the T.  Wolfe was on a book tour plugging Bonfire.  In the book, Wolfe mentions scruffy travelers at airports.  Apparently, I wasn’t the first or even the worst one he’s ever seen.

Spoiler Alert: The concept of “Bonfire of the Vanities” has been used in a number of books, including The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, which we read in 2004, the year it was published.  In 1497 in Florence, Italy, Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican priest, and his followers gathered up thousands of items of what they considered moral laxity, such as musical intruments, wordly art (including works by Michelangelo and Botticelli), mirrors, chess pieces — you get the picture– and had them burned.  The following year, Savonarola and a two of his followers were condemned, tortured and then burned on the same spot.

This is the link to a New York Times review about A Man in Full.  It doesn’t say anything about horses.     A Man in Tune With His Heritage; In His New Novel, Tom Wolfe Unearths His Southern Roots 

 Here’s a link to a review of The Rule of FourBOOKS OF THE TIMES; Deciphering a Mysterious Text and Puzzles of the Soul You’ll have to find a Bonfire of the Vanities review on your own. Cathy

1 Comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, Humor, Journalism, New York Times Book Review, Reading, Writers

George Orwell is in the news again! (with Evelyn Waugh)

George Orwell

George Orwell

Some people just can’t keep out of the news.  I recently wrote in this blog about George Orwell’s new blog, which is on the blatherblog blogroll — that’s a tongue twister! 

Now Orwell is the subject of a new book along with Evelyn Waugh.  The book, The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War, is by David Lebedoff.  The book sounds like a fascinating history of their times as well as a discussion of the work and lives of these two literary giants. They both had widely different views on a number of issues, such as religion, the Spanish Civil War and economics.

Here’s are two New York Times book reviews.  The book must be worth reading, since it merits TWO reviews in the Times.  Here’s Michiko Kakutani’s review: Literary Soul Mates or Authors Who Were Polar Opposites?  Here’s what Jim Holt had to say about the book: Two of a Kind

If this isn’t enough about George Orwell, you can go to my blog post Newspeak   Cathy

Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, Humor, Journalism, New York Times Book Review, Politics, Reading

October 2008 Books — The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Literary Society, The Little Book

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  Go to www.randomhouse.com to find information about the book, including a video of Annie Barrows talking about the book and her co-author, her aunt, who recently died.

“The Little Book” by Selden Edwards.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Club, Books, October 2008 Books, Reading, Uncategorized

George Orwell is a Blogger!

George Orwell

George Orwell.

George Orwell’s diaries are now available in blog form.  A prolific writer, Orwell wrote about everything, including everyday life, writing, and, of course, politics.  The blog posts mirror his diary entries from seventy years ago.  On Sept. 7, his political entries from 1938 begin on the blog.  We all know what terrible events were happening in Europe at that time.

The blog address is www.orwelldiaries.wordpress.com  The blog is sponsored by the Orwell Prize for writing, in association with the Orwell Trust, Political Quarterly and Media Standard Trust in Great Britain.  An article in the New York Times about this blog inspired me to write about Orwell on my own blog.  Here’s the link to my Orwell Article, which will lead you to more links, including the New York Times link……….Cathy

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Club, Books, Journalism, Literature, Politics, Writers