Miller, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, faithfully captures the turbulent time at the turn of the 20th century when America faced discord from within and without, and war and an assassin altered America's history. President McKinley, then the most popular U.S. president since Lincoln, rose from humble beginnings in Ohio to become a Civil War hero and hardworking congressman, and as president determined to govern with a nonconfrontational style and maintain a peaceful foreign policy. In telling the stories of McKinley and his killer in alternating chapters, Miller uses sharp parallels between the president and his anarchist killer, Leon Czolgosz, a factory worker who lost his job in the crash of 1893 and was something of a loner who found an emotional outlet following the anarchist movement andactivist Emma Goldman. Goldman's words inspired the depressed man to violence. With a smoldering labor crisis, foreign woes with Spain and Cuba, and a harsh media barrage, McKinley finally thought things were going his way until the fateful day he was shot. Miller's polished and vivid narrative of these complex, dissimilar men makes this piece of Americana appear fresh and unexpected. (June)
Miller (former correspondent, Wall Street Journal) gives us a dual biography of President William McKinley and Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated him in 1901. In the process he provides an overview of the rise of the anarchist movement and the expansion of American involvement in foreign affairs at the time. McKinley represented the wealthy classes profiting from the rapid expansion of the U.S. industrial economy, while Czolgosz was emblematic of those who worked the mines and factories. Loss of a job during the 1883 financial crisis radicalized Czolgosz. Miller intertwines events leading up to famous 1886 and 1892 riots and strikes with narrative on the Spanish-American War at Manila Bay, San Juan Hill, and Santiago in 1898. He also speculates that Czolgosz was not mentally ill but followed the example set by European anarchists who accepted the use of violence for political ends. VERDICT While covering familiar ground, Miller's thesis regarding Czolgosz's motives and the detailed picture of America and its place in the world at the beginning of the 20th century make for interesting reading that nicely complements Eric Rauchway's Murdering McKinley. Recommended to all interested readers.—Stephen Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg
A rich, rapacious America clashes with its downtrodden and idealistic in this ambitious, wide-ranging study.
The era leading up to the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 was defined by enormous expansion in American industry and muscle-flexing abroad as well as the potent rise of labor unrest and revolutionary ideas such as anarchy. The growth of railroads, steel output, consumer goods, patents and sheer American ingenuity enriched the captains of industry, while the laborers, assembly-line workers, coal miners and armies of poor immigrants performed mind-numbing tasks for quarters and dimes per day. Wall Street Journal correspondent Miller harnesses several narratives successively. He moves between the coffer-rich Republican election of the self-made man and Civil War hero McKinley against the populist William Jennings Bryan, to the meeting between the painfully shy working-class loner in Cleveland, Leon Czolgosz, and the charismatic anarchist speaker Emma Goldman. Fired up by Goldman's words on social revolution and liberty—which in turn had emerged from a movement that Miller neatly traces from the work of Edmund Burke, William Godwin and the Transcendentalists—Czolgosz steeled himself for the "propaganda of the deed"—e.g., the kind of deadly terrorism that was rocking European capitals in the 1890s. Meanwhile, McKinley was faced with international crises that he would manipulate effectively for American imperialist gain, such as the annexation of Hawaii, defeat of Spain for the protectorate of Cuba and the Philippines, takeover of Guam and Puerto Rico and an attempted Open Door policy toward China (thwarted by the Boxer Rebellion).
This is a wildly complex and significant period in American history, and Miller does a solid job of attending to the many boiling pots on the stove.
Scott Miller vividly traces the intersecting trajectories of the protagonists.
The New York Times
“[A] panoramic tour de force . . . Miller has a good eye, trained by years of journalism, for telling details and enriching anecdotes.”—The Washington Independent Review of Books
“Even without the intrinsic draw of the 1901 presidential assassination that shapes its pages, Scott Miller’s The President and the Assassin [is] absorbing reading. . . . What makes the book compelling is [that] so many circumstances and events of the earlier time have parallels in our own.”—The Oregonian
“A marvelous work of history, wonderfully written.”—Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
“A real triumph.”—BookPage
“Fast-moving and richly detailed.”—The Buffalo News
“[A] compelling read.”—The Boston Globe
One of Newsweek’s 10 Must-Read Summer Books