More Powerful Than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York's Year of Anarchy

More Powerful Than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York's Year of Anarchy

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by Thai Jones, Jennifer Spanier
     
 

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In the year that saw the start of World War I, the United States was itself on the verge of revolution: industrial depression in the east, striking coal miners in Colorado, and increasingly tense relations with Mexico. “There was blood in the air that year,” a witness later recalled, “there truly was.”

In New York, the year

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Overview

 

In the year that saw the start of World War I, the United States was itself on the verge of revolution: industrial depression in the east, striking coal miners in Colorado, and increasingly tense relations with Mexico. “There was blood in the air that year,” a witness later recalled, “there truly was.”

In New York, the year had opened with bright expectations, but 1914 quickly tumbled into disillusionment and violence. For John Purroy Mitchel, the city’s new “boy mayor,” the trouble started in January, when a crushing winter caused homeless shelters to overflow. By April, anarchist throngs paraded past industrialists’ mansions, and tens of thousands filled Union Square demanding “Bread or Revolution.” Then, on July 4, 1914, a detonation destroyed a seven-story Harlem tenement. It was the largest explosion the city had ever known. Among the dead were three bombmakers; incited by anarchist Alexander Berkman, they had been preparing to dynamite the estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of a plutocratic dynasty and widely vilified for a massacre of his company’s striking workers in Colorado earlier that spring.

More Powerful Than Dynamite charts how anarchist anger, progressive idealism, and plutocratic paternalism converged in that July explosion. Its cast ranges from celebrated figures such as Emma Goldman, Upton Sinclair, and Andrew Carnegie to the fascinating and heretofore little known: Frank Tannenbaum, a homeless teenager who dared to lead his followers into the city’s churches; police inspector Max Schmittberger, too honest for his department and too crooked for everyone else; and Becky Edelsohn, a young anarchist known for her red tights and for spitting in millionaires’ faces. Historian and journalist Thai Jones creates a fascinating portrait of a city on the edge of chaos coming to terms with modernity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With tensions brewing in Europe at the start of “the first war to end all wars” in 1914, New York City was rife with continuing conflict between the haves and have-nots, shaping the future of national politics and culture, according to this atmospheric account. Jones, a former Newsday reporter, details the young, patrician, and anti-Tammany Hall mayor, John Purroy Mitchel, who tried to keep the lid on a metropolis being pulled apart by anarchists and unionists attempting to bring down industrialist John D. Rockefeller and his fellow plutocrats, while they also tried to maintain labor rights on the front burner. This pivotal year has its share of political promises, rebel-rousing rhetoric, and bloodshed, including the activitiets of anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, journalists Walter Lippman and Upton Sinclair, and dedicated radicals Frank Tannenbaum and Becky Edelsohn (reputedly America’s first hunger striker). Delving into the major players behind the dramatic events of 1914 in New York City, Jones (A Radical Line) draws parallels between 1914 and recent times in the social issues, moral dilemmas, and lack of political insight with intelligent research, fascinating characters, and striking tabloid color. B&w illus. Agent: Anna Ghosh, Scovil, Galen, Ghosh Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Soapboxes, raucous parades, hunger strikes, and dynamite. These tactics were among the methods of American protest in the early 1900s, and New York City was the epicenter. The titular year of anarchy for Jones (former reporter, New York Newsday; A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience) is 1914. Through the tensions between a circle of passionate radicals and John D. Rockefeller Jr., Jones examines the larger picture. Tensions exploded—sometimes literally—partially fueled by the Ludlow massacre of miners' families, killed by troops confronting strikers from the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Jones discusses well-known radical favorites, e.g., Emma Goldman, as well as activists less familiar to a modern audience, among them Frank Tannenbaum, Arthur Caron, and Becky Edelsohn. He treats all with dignity, examining their motives and character and spinning a human story around historical events, a presentation that one would expect from a former journalist. VERDICT This book compares favorably with other works on 20th-century radicalism. Recommended for undergraduates and casual readers interested in the history of American labor and social-justice movements.—Laura Ruttum Senturia, Univ. of Colorado-Boulder Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A messy conglomeration of personalities make up this ill-focused yet engaging portrait of New York City on the verge of anarchy and war, 1914. Chockablock with research and detail, journalist Jones' second work (after A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience, 2004) includes everything except a clear thesis. If there is anything he is proving, it is his passion and respect for the players of that roiling, revolutionary time: anarchists like Emma Goldman and Alexander Beckman, reform-minded New York City mayor-elect John Purroy Mitchel, crusading journalists like Mother Jones and Uptown Sinclair and even the Christian idealist out of step with his plutocratic patriarch, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Jones moves chronologically throughout 1914, which opened after the relative harmony of the previous year. However, social evils in all facets of society were exposed by enlightened provocateurs like the young unemployed labor leader Frank Tannenbaum, who led fellow groups of unemployed into the city's churches for shelter during that extremely harsh winter and was eventually arrested. Anarchists were on the march as well, supported by union protestors, often to violent effect; they taxed the resources and good will of the new mayor and his broad-minded new police commissioner, Arthur Woods. Employees at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, co-owned by Rockefeller but managed from a distance, went on strike, culminating in the so-called Ludlow Massacre, which prompted a sea change in Rockefeller Jr.'s antiquated views on collective organization and union rights. President Wilson struggled with turmoil in Mexico, calls for war in Europe and his own health, while a bomb probably designated for Rockefeller Jr. detonated accidentally in a Lexington Avenue apartment, killing three anarchists. Jones provides deep research and nicely fleshed portraits but only partial synthesis of the information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802779335
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
04/24/2012
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.41(d)

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