Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Blum...build[s] suspense with an astonishing cast of characters in the unfolding drama of the American labor movement. Completely riveting." Booklist (Starred Review)
"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)
"This is popular history, written to be as entertaining as fiction. Blum creates a fictional effect by omitting the dull stuff, and never pausing to explain where his information comes from. This creates a sense of certainty about material that, on reflection, sometimes seems doubtable, but it keeps the story moving fast." Russell Baker, The New York Review of Books
(read the entire New York Review of Books review
A masterpiece of narrative history that vividly brings to life the original crime of the century, American Lightning shows the lasting impact the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times offices had on three remarkable individuals and, through them, the country itself.
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.