28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
I'm very interested in this period in American history. But I still found this book very difficult to read. As other reviewers have pointed out, it's a scholarly examination of not only the Wall Street bombing, but the entire Socialist and Anarchist movement in the early part of the 20th century.
There are lots of names, lots of dates, lots of events. Chapters tend to jump back in time to cover a specific topic, which I found to be very confusing at times.
The book is very well written, but is very dry reading at times. I had to force myself through much of the last half of the book.
There was one statement in the book that made me step aside and do some research of my own. The author was describing the way that some communities "handled" the socialist movement, and she said: "In Bisbee, Arizona, mine bosses loaded some twelve hundred Wobblies and their families into rail cars and shipped them out to wither in the desert."
That sentence shocked me. Would people really have taken thousands of people (assuming "families" included women and children) into the desert and abandoned them to die? So I did a web search on "bisbee arizona wobblies".
I found a number of articles on the "Bisbee Deportation", all of which described the incident in much less sensational terms than the author. All of the articles described the people deported as "men" ("The deputies arrested more than 2000 men..."; "The posse rounded up more than 1,200 men..."). None of them mentioned "familes". The men were not "shipped out to wither in the desert", they were put on a train to Columbus, New Mexico. You can read the rest of the details in the articles you'll find. But I could find no account of anyone "withering in the desert".
This is a pretty major incident (although, like much of the things that are described in the book, not very well known today). The fact that the Author's brief and somewhat lurid description of the Deportation is so much at odds with the other accounts I read, makes me wonder what other inaccuracies might be in the book.
That aside, if you have a serious interest in this period of history, this would be an excellent reference book. But if you're looking for lighter historical reading for entertainment or general knowledge, this is probably not a good choice.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I love American history and I was surprised to see a book that talked about a bombing on Wall Street that happened in 1920. I had heard about the bombing at Black Tom Island in New York Harbor in 1916 during World War I but had never heard of a peacetime bombing on Wall Street. The Day Wall Street Exploded taught me not only about the bombing itself but also about terrorism in the United States that occurred in the late 1800's that I never knew existed. It also gave me a great sense of the conflict between unions and capitalists, communists and members of the United States Government and anarchists and every government.
This book is well footnoted so the author clearly has done her homework. This is not a brief look into the subject but an exhaustive look at terrorism before the bombing, the bombing itself, the search for the culprits and the world which allowed the bombing to occur. Living just outside New York City I remember what it was like after the September 11 bombing. I remember the concern that something could happen so near. I remember the added security and the desire to find the masterminds behind the bombing.
The reaction by people to the September 16, 1920 Wall Street bombing was no different. An appendix at the end of the book lists the names, ages and occupations of the 38 men and women who died in the bombing. Despite its' much smaller scale innocents were killed (including students and secretaries and messengers and grocery clerks), people were amazed a bombing could occur on Wall Street and kill people for no real reason. People wanted to find those who were responsible.
The search was not perfect and some investigators had their own agenda in identifying the culprits. Some politicians used the bombing for political gain. Others were only interested in finding the culprits and were true patriots. America survived the bombing, people were not afraid and the nation became even stronger. Some things never change.
The author takes on a lot in this book. She is writing about a complex investigation that occurred some 90 years ago and attempting to give the reader a sense of the times, which is not easy considering the period in American history. She succeeds. While the author gets into some pretty specific details the books flows well. It took me a number of days to read because to the amount of information she includes and the detailed footnoting but I would not have wanted her to do otherwise. The information is necessary to tell the whole story.
If you are interested in this time period this is a great book. If you want to see that people have not changed much in 80 years when it comes to reacting to terrorism read this book.
For me the names, occupations and ages of people killed by terrorism some 90-year's ago looks much the same as it does today. After reading the book and reading the names I felt sorry for those killed by terrorists so long ago. The next time I visit Wall Street I will pay my respects to those who died as senselessly as those who died on September 11.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Don't get me wrong, the story is interesting. It is just a slow and tedious read. I can't quite put my finger on it other than the writing is just very dry. So many back stories and facts are presented and the timelines jump around a bit it was hard for me to keep straight what was happening when, and sometimes even why it was relevent to the day in question. Really, it seems like it is more of a history of the union politics and 'terrorist' tactics that were used to gain rights for workers than a focus on that particular day. It seems the book would have been a bit more successful in addressing it from that direction and leading up to events of that day instead of going back and forth, trying to tie everything together in a haphazard way. That being said, I learned quite a bit from this narrative and feel that it presents a side of American history that certainly wasn't taught in any of my history classes. I would say it is worth the read, just be prepared for it to take some dedication to finish!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"As it grew, New York had become not a melting pot but a city of extremes: the capital of capitalism and of radicalism, of wealth and poverty, of high-minded reform and pragmatic enterprise, of the war effort and the antiwar crusade. Its very success as a magnet for the rich as well as the poor, for left as well as right, made it a city of frequent discord, a place where the conflicts of the rest of the nation--indeed of much of the world--were compressed into a few square miles." This quotation, lifted from page 21 of Beverly Gage's compelling new book "The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America In Its First Age of Terror" seems to capture precisely what was happening in New York City in the year 1920. On September 16th of that year an explosion took place at high noon in the heart of Wall Street right across the street from the Morgan Bank. The results were devasting. Thirty nine people were killed that day and hundreds more injured. The tiny 100 bed hospital that served the area was ill-prepared for the casualties. Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995 it was the deadliest terrorist attack in American history and yet very few Americans have ever even heard of it. "The Day Wall Street Exploded" explores what was taking place in our country at that juncture in our history and attempts to determine who might have been responsible for this heinous act. It is compelling reading.
Now in order to help her readers to fully comprehend the environment in which these events took place Beverly Gage opens "The Day Wall Street Exploded" with an extensive history of radical thought in America. You will meet many of the prominent radical activists of the day including Big Bill Hayward, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Eugene Debs and Luigi Galleani to name but a few. Not all radicals were advocating the same ideas. There were socialists, communists and anarchists. They had come to America from countries like Germany, Italy, Russia and France. What they all shared in common was a hatred for industrialists and for the money men on Wall Street. Given the tenor of the times it is remarkable that a lot more violence did not occur during this extremely volatile period. But make no mistake, there had been violence. The famous Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886 had started out as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb into the crowd and eight policemen and an undetermined number of civilians were killed. Beverly Gage also discusses other significant terrorist incidents including the McNamara Affair and the May Day bomb conspiracy which had targeted Jack Morgan and dozens of other businessmen and politicians. Finally, based on thousands of pages of Bureau of Investigation reports "The Day Wall Street Exploded" traces our governments four year hunt for the perpetrators of Wall Street bombing. You will be introduced to the public officials who led the investigation and learn of some of the highly questionable tactics they employed to try to get a break in the case.
I found "The Day That Wall Street Exploded" to be an exceptionally well written book. Meticulously documented, Beverly Gage leaves no stone unturned in her effort to figure out just what went down on that long ago September afternoon. While this is a "must read" for history buffs it is also a book that general audiences should enjoy as well. Highly recommended!
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2009
The above words, spoken by anarchist Johann Most, sum up the general attitudes of the rabble-rousers you will spend 300 pages with, should you choose to read "The Day Wall Street Exploded". A better title would have been "And then Wall Street Exploded: The Anarchist Movement of the Early 1900's", since that, as other reviewers have pointed out, is the actual subject.
Reading like a good student's loooooong term paper, the book is dense, Byzantine, and rather dry in style. We spend a lot of time with some truly annoying people, but then we also learn a lot about an age largely forgotten, a time with strong parallels to our own. The details of the attack itself are very interesting, but side trips into the repellent minds of Johann Most & Co. are not (with the exception of spitfire Emma Goldman, who at least is entertaining). I know conditions were wretched, and people had a right to be disgruntled, so what does it say that I found myself relieved to be back with the Morgans?
It comes down to the writing style. If you are not used to reading history, the endless details of this book might bore you. If you love it, you might like this read. History buff that I am, I still found myself kind of forcing it. In an age where apparently everyone ran around with lighted sticks of dynamite, dullness is inexcusable. With a hundred pages cut and a lot more color, this could have been a must.
GRADE: C (B- if you love and adore Emma Goldman, or find scrawny, whiny Johann Most appealing.)
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2009
This book is, sadly, as bad an example of written history as it is interesting in it's subject matter itself. This is a fascinating slice of American history, indeed. But Beverly Gage does an atrocious job of compiling it. This is a great example of how NOT to write history.
It is irritating enough to have to suffer through the author's thinly-veiled biases throughout the book itself, but a seasoned reader can endure that. The real problem lies in that - as I got further and further into this work - it became increasingly apparent that I couldn't really decipher what parts I could and could not rely upon as factual.
Gage editorializes at will, she misses potentially useful context all over the place in order to simply allow her the print to get all of her research stuffed in, and it ruins the utility of the book. I was really disappointed. As I began to realize that the degree to which she was just writing her impressions versus basing the history on fact, I actually went back and re-read certain sections with increasing dismay.
Here's a typical example. After a prolonged, sympathetic multi-chapter sidebar included to lend support to how badly false arrests of anarchists and communists had been in decades preceding the Wall Street blast, she introduces (in not-so-subtle ways) her basic thesis about how the whole bombing was not actually precipitated by terror groups, but in fact was just an accident and then covered up by dynamite companies. She then selectively cuts-and-pastes examples of the difficulties of various law enforcement agencies in prior incidents to emphasize the difficulty of the task and the unlikelihood of nabbing whoever was responsible. By itself, it would be fine to include that. But she never equals the seriousness in presenting the rationale for why - in fact - it could have been one of these groups. I found this incredible.
Indeed, the very organization of the book itself is an attempt by Gage to create an interesting story - in her mind - rather than logically laying out timelines or themes. She seems to really enjoy segues that are superficially neat, but which actually undermine the teaching the book could do. Perhaps it is a moot point, since it is impossible to rely on her writing anyway.
As I briefly touched on, her greatest crime is in demolishing the potential context of the other dimensions of her subjects by presenting only her own particular bias. In presenting history, this is Mistake 101. This is a Yale professor? Yikes.
It is a shame, because the stories of the struggles of the period are truly important American history. Now, can someone step up and do the subject justice?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
As it becomes more apparent that America's "war on terror" really may be the generational conflict some commentators were predicting shortly after September 11, perhaps historians' minds are turning more to similar periods of uncertainty and generalized threat in American life? It would seem that way, given that a few months ago saw the release of American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, Howard Blum's well-done re-introduction to us of the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, and now we have Beverly Gage's "The Day Wall Street Exploded," about a violent attack on America's financial center a decade later. While it might be too much to call "The Day..." a sequel of sorts to the earlier book, the two could certainly be two volumes in a series, and it works well to read the two together. Many of the same personalities appear in each, and the fundamental movements and trends at work -- labor unrest, financial centralization, fear of immigrants and radicals -- are at work in both. People interested in one of these books will certainly want to check out the other.
Gage has done a fine job here with research and reporting. She is somewhat less willing than Blum was to try to interpret her subjects' thoughts and motivations, but her ability to tell her story does not suffer because of this. For a look at this earlier, almost forgotten, period of "terror" in American life (or certain parts of it, anyway), "The Day Wall Street Exploded" is not only a worthwhile resource to turn to, but one with some obvious current application as well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2011
Many books tend to get more interesting after they finish with the background material and get to the heart of the book; in a biography, for example, the background about the subject's ancestors and childhood is usually not as interesting as the story of subject's accomplishments, which is, after all, why we read the book. In The Day Wall Street Exploded, by contrast, the first third of the book, about the confrontations of labor, socialists, and anarchists with management and law enforcement in the late 19th century and early 20th century, was quite interesting. But, after the day that Wall Street exploded (Sept. 16, 1920, when explosives killed 38 people and injured hundreds), the book focuses solely on that crime (if it was a crime and not an accident) and the efforts to solve it, and it becomes more and more tedious. We learn about the competition and conflicts between federal and local authorities, and we learn about the numerous Italian anarchists and Communists who are arrested and released for lack of evidence. The details seem to be presented for their own sake and to have no larger point.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
So, up front you should know that I haven't finished this book and likely won't. I've gotten two-thirds of the way into it and I give up. It's completely failing to grip me, and I have no interest in finishing it.
I'd gone into this book expecting a nice non-fiction crime story, talking about the particulars of a very nasty terrorist attack. I'd expected to read all about the case, how it happened, who was behind it, the investigation, etc.
Sadly, what we get instead is a detailed history on the anarchist movement in the United States. That's a valid and somewhat interesting topic, but it isn't what I'd expected. It strays from what should be the main focus and winds up all over the map, going from Haymarket up to the titular attack on Wall Street.
I'm very disapointed, cause I'd expected something along the lines of American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, which covered a terrorist attack in Los Angeles and features some of the same real-life figures this book does. What I got instead was a dry, boring little book that seems to be more about build-up than pay-off.
If you want a good book about American terrorism in the early 20th century, check the aforementioned "American Lightning" and, sadly, avoid this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very few people recall the event. Even many of those who every day pass the pock marked wall on Wall Street have no idea what happened there on September 16, 1920. That day a horse drawn wagon full of dynamite exploded outside the J.P. Morgan building, killing 39 people and injuring hundreds, many very seriously. Until the Oklahoma City bombing, it was the deadliest terrorist bombing on American soil.
Who committed this terrible deed? Was it an accident, a wagon transporting dynamite where it wasn't supposed to be? Or was it labor anarchists, protesting the brutal arrest of many of their brothers including Sacco and Vanzetti? Or was it communists trying to stir up anti-labor feeling in the US after their recent success in Russia? Beverly Gage starts by taking us to the Haymarket riot of the 1880's and leading us through the successes and failures including the violence of the anarchist labor movement. With World War I and Woodrow Wilson's anti-sedition laws, many in the labor movement found themselves in prison and those on the outside became more inflamed by the anti-union position of the Federal government. Were they the ones who placed the bomb on Wall Street?
Next, Gage takes us through the investigation and describes perhaps the most inept attempt at solving a crime ever attempted by the Federal government. The predecessor to the FBI was assigned the task and two directors found themselves out of jobs, not because of their failure to solve the crime, but because of the embarrassing way they failed to solve it. Only a few short years after the bombing, with the Roaring 20's in full bloom, the bombing became a thing of the past and the investigation was never concluded.
Gage makes some interesting points about how the government used the fear after the bombing to ignore civil rights and jail suspects secretly and without trials that can perhaps be tied to more recent history. But she avoids the mistake of trying to tie 1920 to 1995 or 2001. Each of these bombings has its own history and its own cause. Gage does a brilliant job of discussing the bombing and the history of the suspects, especially the US labor movement, as well as the investigation that became a wasted effort of forcing the evidence to fit preconceived notions. This is an excellent book about a mostly forgotten piece of American history that is well worth reading.