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Customer Reviews for

American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood

Average Rating 3.5
( 37 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
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  • Posted September 23, 2010

    Liked it, didn't love it.

    American Lightning takes place around the turn of the century and focuses on the bombings of the Times building in L.A. and the burgeoning film industry. I found the book a little dry, and not as engaging as other books of its genre such as The Devil in the White City. The two parts of the book, the Times bombing and the film industry, were tenuously connected, but learning about the justice system was interesting, and reading about how the first blockbuster movie, The Birth of a Nation, was created was intriguing. All in all, I just liked the book, I didn't love it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2011

    Eh

    It wasn't the worst tging i've read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2010

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    Interesting history middlingly told.

    This book by Howard Blum covers an episode of American history I'd never heard of, the 1910 bombing and utter destruction of Los Angeles Times building. I knew the labor movement at time faced a lot violent push-back from the employers, but I was unaware of this act of terrorism in response. The story itself is quite interesting, from the background of the act itself to the mystery novel-like tracking down of the culprits by the now forgotten celebrity of his day William J. Burns. The trial part of the book is less gripping, but still interesting for the tribulations Clarence Darrow faced in defending his clients and the understandable but still illegal acts be committed to get them off. Blum's writing isn't of the highest quality, but for the most part it suffices.

    The fatal flaw of this book is the attempt to shoehorn in the parallel story of film director D.W. Griffith (à la "The Devil in the White City"). Griffith's history, while informative and of interest, has very little at all to do with the main subject and becomes even less so as the book goes on. Blum seems to strain to keep him the story in later chapters, by using such tenuous connections as films about the case being made using techniques he was a pioneer of. The only justification the author seems to have for including him in "American Lighting" at all is a very brief meeting all three main subjects had a LA hotel.

    Another problem is the annoying lack of information in places. I had to use Wikipedia to find out about the ultimate fate of the culprits. Much is made of D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation", but while that film's racism is discussed, no mention at all of his fallow-up film "Intolerance" that Griffith made in response to the former film's critics is made at all.

    All-in-all this is a bit of history that deserved its own book, but I think it really needed a better author for the job.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    Interesting and very well written

    Told as history should be told. The narrative takes a relatively obscure event and fleshes it out making it fresh and timely.

    The best way to summarize how well this book succeeded in telling the tale of this forgotten event is to say that after reading it I wanted to know more about the events and William Burns ("the American Sherlock Holmes").

    I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in true crime and/or American History.

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  • Posted May 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting story that has been lost in time

    This is the true story of one of the first cases of modern "terrorism" in the Untied States. Someone has blown up the Los Angeles Times building and a great detective is hired to figure it out. What makes it so interesting is that the events occurred in 1910-1911 and that the story is all true. The three main figures in this true crime book are detective Billy Burns (the American Sherlock Holmes), renowned attorney Clarence Darrow and famed film-maker DW Griffith. Blum creates a swift, flowing read when speaking of Burn's struggles and work on the case. And he does a good job humanizing the mighty Darrow. Where Blum fails is in his connection of Griffith to the story. He attempted to show how Griffith became the new voice of American film and moved it from melodrama and slapstick to a medium that tells real stories. That may be true (and I even would agrue it's not), but this case was not his true inspiration and as only peripheral to what he was trying to accomplish in film. This makes his appearences in the story jarring at best. But for the rest- an interesting and exciting read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2008

    Terrific History

    Amazing story.I find it hard to believe this incredible story seems to be forgotten. Marvelous read.

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  • Posted November 14, 2008

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    I Also Recommend:

    Good Read

    The interesting thing about this book is the parallels that can be drawn with our current times. Anyone interested in the history of the US will enjoy this book - reads like a work of fiction - which I mean as a compliment

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    Posted May 24, 2013

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    Posted December 27, 2009

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    Posted June 9, 2011

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    Posted December 30, 2010

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