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Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America Paperback – March 13, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As Green thoroughly documents, the bloody Haymarket riot of May 4, 1886, changed the history of American labor and created a panic among Americans about (often foreign-born) "radicals and reformers" and union activists. The Haymarket demonstration, to protest police brutality during labor unrest in Chicago, remained peaceful until police moved in, whereupon a bomb was thrown by an individual never positively identified, killing seven policemen and wounding 60 others. Shortly after, labor leaders August Spies and Albert Parsons, along with six more alleged anarchists, stood convicted of murder on sparse evidence. Four of them went to the gallows in 1887; another committed suicide. The surviving three received pardons in 1893. The Knights of Labor, at that time America's largest and most energetic union, received the blame for the riot, despite a lack of conclusive evidence , and many Knights locals migrated to the less radical American Federation of Labor. Labor historian Green (Taking History to Heart) eloquently chronicles all this, producing what will surely be the definitive word on the Haymarket affair for this generation. Green is particularly strong in documenting the episode's long aftermath, especially the decades-long efforts of the white Parsons's black wife to exonerate her husband. B&w illus. (Mar. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Green, an academic, offers a narrative history of Chicago's Haymarket bombing in 1886, the infamous trial that followed, and the hanging of subsequently determined innocent men. Chicago was then at the heart of the labor struggle for the eight-hour day, and we learn that "workers' struggles had often been met with shocking repression, and that when violence bred violence, when powerless laboring people struck back in anger, they often paid with their lives." The Haymarket episode became a seminal moment for the American labor movement, and Green takes us inside the personal, social, and cultural elements of this tragic event. Evaluation of Haymarket includes the contention that a conservative bias against radicals, labor organizers, immigrants, and minorities was fundamental to the conflict as well as the view that execution of the anarchists saved the country from anarchy and was a moral and political victory for law and order. The author notes that after Haymarket, social peace among the various classes in Chicago was impossible, and grudges continued for decades. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400033225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400033225
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book by James Green is great narrative history about maybe the most important event in the history of the U.S. working class. The characters are well drawn, the context is laid out nicely and the analysis is first rate. It is a sophisticated study without resorting to academic jargon. I normally don't write many reviews, but I had to when I saw that only two had been written so far. I really doubt that a better work of American history will be written this year. James Green is definitely a historian to watch.
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Format: Hardcover
Green recounts an important event in labor history that seems to be better known internationally than in the US. I learned much of the biographies of some interesting figures as well as a realistic portrait of late nineteenth century Chicago. Readers who enjoyed the excellent "Nature's Metropolis" will find this book to be a good counterweight; it spans a similar domain with a different thesis and approach to history. While at times the author overuses phrases (for some reason the term "lumber shover" wore on me), and he shows his sympathy for the labor movement in a less than dispassionate fashion, overall, the author held my interest throughout the book. I especially enjoyed learning of some of the Illinois colleagues of Lincoln and how their careers developed after the Civil War. Lastly, though never explicitly stated, the author's major points regarding dissent, freedom of speech, anarchy, etc., have special resonance in the middle of the present decade. It is interesting to see how our nineteenth century forebears reacted to a set of circumstances that has analogies in today's headlines.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a carefully constructed work of love. The author's portrayal of the anarchist, socialist and labor movements in Chicago is riveting. I empathized with the desperation of the activists even as I disagreed with their rhetoric at times. Lucy & Albert Parsons and August Spies appeared to be absolutely dedicated to labor and civil rights activism. What a far-reaching legacy this event left behind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is nice to see this book will soon be out in paperback making it available to a broader audience, because it is a much needed account of the early days of the labor movement in America. James Green has done a remarkable job of building the events that surrounded the notorious Haymarket bombing of 1886 by exploring the lives of the eight men who stood accused for inspiring the incident. He starts with the explosive incident, and then digs back into the archive of union organization in Chicago and the attempts to form a national labor union. While most of the figures were foreign born, one figure, Albert Parsons, hailed from Texas and became the most charismatic figure of the Chicago Eight.

Green shows how the media, police and state militia were predominantly held under the influence of the industrialists, who felt it their god-given right to set the rules for the market economy at the time. While economic giants like McCormick and Pullman attempted to create more ameniable workplaces, even they refused to negotiate with unions, preferring instead to hire scabs and use the Pinkerton Agency to break strikes. The early socialist movement preferred to negotiate with the industrialists, knowing it was a long term process to get better pay and working conditions, but the anarchists felt that stronger resistance was necessary and labor leaders like Parsons and Spies became the spokesmen for the growing anarchist movement in America.

The book chronicles the events that led up to the Haymarket bombing, illustrating the many attempts of the industrialists and indeed the city to quash the labor movements.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was excellent at bringing to life an incident I knew little about: the Haymarket bombing in 1886. My love of history has centered on wars, diplomacy and technology. This book is about economic growth and social history so it added to my knowledge.

The Growth of Chicago

As the book points out in its early chapters, the setting for the Haymarket incident was the astounding growth of the city of Chicago. Several newly emerging technologies resonated with creating a big city at the south end of Lake Michigan: steel, railroads, lumber and meat packing were the most spectacular.

These industries created a lot of new companies, jobs and wealth. The new companies entered all the above listed areas, and the new jobs they created were available to all comers. The new wealth that all this industrializing created was used to create even more new companies, hire more new workers and create one of the first large-scale wealthy classes of Americans. Sadly, many of the workers coming to this booming Chicago felt they weren't getting their fair share of this prosperity, so there was lots of labor unrest mixed in with all the other excitement of this rapidly growing Chicago social scene.

The Great Chicago Fire

Chapter Three talks about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire was the result of freaky weather conditions mixing with of a lot of hasty building in the city using lots of lumber. Much of the city burned to a crisp.

But the foundations for why the city had been growing were not shaken, so the city rebuilt quickly. One surprising fallout of this natural disaster was to bring together various immigrant worker groups into a larger sense of cooperation.
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