Judy's Reviews > American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood & the Crime of the Century

American Lightning by Howard Blum
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's review
Jun 23, 2010

really liked it

In October 1910, the Los Angeles Times office building was bombed killing 21 people and injuring over 100. This bombing was part of the struggle between labor and industry that had been on-going since the late 19th century and was now threatening to spill over into a wider, more violent, national conflict. Howard Blum weaves together the story of three prominent Americans who were affected by this bombing--Billy Burns, Clarence Darrow, and D.W. Griffith. William "Billy" Burns was a former Secret Service agent who was popularly known as the American Sherlock Holmes. He was hired by the city of Los Angeles to bring the bombers to justice. After a six month investigation, he discovered that the LA Times bombing was just one in a much wider plot. He ultimately arrested three men in the Midwest and brought them back to Los Angeles for trial. One of the three confessed and the evidence was overwhelming for brothers J.J. and J.B. McNamara. Clarence Darrow was brought in to defend the McNamara brothers and became embroiled in legal problems of his own. Rounding out the trio is fledgling film director, D.W. Griffith who are experimenting with silent films with social themes. Making appearances are Lincoln Steffens, the muckraking journalist, who wants to broker a plea agreement and Mary Pickford, who appears in many of Griffith's movies. A fascinating book about the first "crime of the century" of the 1900s.

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