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Extended Audio Sample American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, by Howard Blum Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (928 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Howard Blum Narrator: John H. Mayer Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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It was an explosion that reverberated across the country—and into the very heart of early-twentieth-century America. On the morning of October 1, 1910, the walls of the Los Angeles Times Building buckled as a thunderous detonation sent men, machinery, and mortar rocketing into the night air. When at last the wreckage had been sifted and the hospital triage units consulted, twenty-one people were declared dead and dozens more injured. But as it turned out, this was just a prelude to the devastation that was to come.

In American Lightning, acclaimed author Howard Blum masterfully evokes the incredible circumstances that led to the original “crime of the century”—and an aftermath more dramatic than even the crime itself.

With smoke still wafting up from the charred ruins, the city’s mayor reacts with undisguised excitement when he learns of the arrival, only that morning, of America’s greatest detective, William J. Burns, a former Secret Service man who has been likened to Sherlock Holmes. Surely Burns, already world famous for cracking unsolvable crimes and for his elaborate disguises, can run the perpetrators to ground.

Through the work of many months, snowbound stakeouts, and brilliant forensic sleuthing, the great investigator finally identifies the men he believes are responsible for so much destruction. Stunningly, Burns accuses the men—labor activists with an apparent grudge against the Los Angeles Times’s fiercely anti-union owner—of not just one heinous deed but of being part of a terror wave involving hundreds of bombings.

While preparation is laid for America’s highest profile trial ever—and the forces of labor and capital wage hand-to-hand combat in the streets—two other notable figures are swept into the drama: industry-shaping ?lmmaker D.W. Griffith, who perceives in these events the possibility of great art and who will go on to alchemize his observations into the landmark film The Birth of a Nation; and crusading lawyer Clarence Darrow, committed to lend his eloquence to the defendants, though he will be driven to thoughts of suicide before events have fully played out.

Simultaneously offering the absorbing reading experience of a can’t-put-it-down thriller and the perception-altering resonance of a story whose reverberations continue even today, American Lightning is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In an approach reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Blum paints his characters in all their grandeur and tragedy, making them—and their era—come alive. Blum’s prose is tight, his speculations unfailingly sound and his research extensive—all adding up to an absorbing and masterful true crime narrative.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “A thumping-good drum roll of narrative history…The cross-country manhunt reads like a great mystery novel…Blum blows the dust off a page of America’s own incendiary past and brings it to pulsating life.”

    Dallas Morning News

  • “Compelling…A tense detective story.”

    Seattle Times

  • “A fast-moving, skillfully constructed account…Blum’s style is cinematic.”

    Chicago Sun-Times

  • “Hugely engaging…[It] has tremendous verve…American Lightning throws valuable new light on an episode that seems, for us today, particularly pertinent. Terrorism happened here.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “An absorbing, novel-like narrative…Masterfully crafted…Blum’s dedication to digging for facts and adhering to journalistic principles in reporting this entangled and multifaceted tale one hundred years after the fact raises comparisons to Truman Capote’s diligence in writing In Cold BloodAmerican Lightning is a must-read.”

    USA Today

  • “Extraordinary…Like a horseless-carriage episode of 24.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Master detective William Burns on one side and famed attorney Clarence Darrow on the other…A riveting account of twentieth century homegrown political terrorism.”

    Library Journal

  • “Completely riveting…Blum chronicles the trial and its aftermath, building suspense with an astonishing cast of characters.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “The author’s eye for scene-setting and subtle explication perfectly mimics a Griffith-style camera. Blum is at his best when exploring the motivations, the genius, and the deep flaws of his three principals, men who occupied the same room only once in their lives, but who are memorably linked in this book. Unfailingly entertaining.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • Winner of the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Fact Crime
  • Selected for the October 2008 Indie Next List

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Lee | 2/11/2014

    " This is a painful read - not well done and I'm struggling to finish "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Cheri | 1/18/2014

    " I didn't quite finish this book group book and didn't like it enough to keep reading. I think I would like it during a less busy time in my life and it might make a great movie. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by David | 12/30/2013

    " Terrorism has been an element of American history for a very long time. In 1910, radical union labor leaders actually blew up the Los Angeles Times building. The bombers struck at night foolishly thinking no one would be hurt. Of course, newspapers were then 24-hour operations and 20 people were killed. The mystery of who committed this crime (and why) was unraveled after a long investigation by the famous detective Billy Burns. Besides Burns, two of the main characters are the film maker D.W. Griffin and the great people's lawyer Clarence Darrow who in his zeal to get a not guilty verdict bribes one of the jurors. This is a great read and I learned quite a bit about the early labor movement and ended up being somewhat sympathetic to the bombers as the then owner of the Los Angeles Times was a horrible reactionary and the way they treated workers and busted unions was appalling. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Marian | 12/19/2013

    " Non fiction book - very engaging - the story of an explosion in October 1,1910 which destroyed the anti-union Los Angles Times Building and killed 21 people. Story of how the investigator Billy Burns investigates the crime and how it intersects with the lives of Clarence Darrow who is defending the men accused of setting off the dynamite and D.W. Griffith who is developing the films with social statements. Highly recommended. Book is extremely well researched "

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