More Powerful Than Dynamite
Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York's Year of Anarchy
By Thai Jones
Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802779335, 402pp.
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
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In the year that saw the start of World War I, the United States was itself on the verge of revolution: industrial depression in the east, striking coal miners in Colorado, and increasingly tense relations with Mexico. "There was blood in the air that year," a witness later recalled, "there truly was."
In New York, the year had opened with bright expectations, but 1914 quickly tumbled into disillusionment and violence. For John Purroy Mitchel, the city's new "boy mayor," the trouble started in January, when a crushing winter caused homeless shelters to overflow. By April, anarchist throngs paraded past industrialists' mansions, and tens of thousands filled Union Square demanding "Bread or Revolution." Then, on July 4, 1914, a detonation destroyed a seven-story Harlem tenement. It was the largest explosion the city had ever known. Among the dead were three bombmakers; incited by anarchist Alexander Berkman, they had been preparing to dynamite the estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of a plutocratic dynasty and widely vilified for a massacre of his company's striking workers in Colorado earlier that spring.
"More Powerful Than Dynamite "charts how anarchist anger, progressive idealism, and plutocratic paternalism converged in that July explosion. Its cast ranges from celebrated figures such as Emma Goldman, Upton Sinclair, and Andrew Carnegie to the fascinating and heretofore little known: Frank Tannenbaum, a homeless teenager who dared to lead his followers into the city's churches; police inspector Max Schmittberger, too honest for his department and too crooked for everyone else; and Becky Edelsohn, a young anarchist known for her red tights and for spitting in millionaires' faces. Historian and journalist Thai Jones creates a fascinating portrait of a city on the edge of chaos coming to terms with modernity.
"Jobless, homeless, hungry, desperate. Remarkable how those words resonate through the years in the richest and most powerful country in world history. Their significance is dramatically highlighted in this compelling and vivid portrayal of the currents that swept the country a century ago, and have come back to haunt and inspire us once again today. More Powerful Than Dynamite is an impressive piece of work."—Noam Chomsky"Almost exactly a century before Occupy Wall Street launched a cause and gripped a nation, a different kind of radical movement in New York City was stirring, stunning, and scaring the country. Thai Jones, a brilliant historian and breathtaking writer, tells this compelling story in MORE POWERFUL THAN DYNAMITE. In his hands, the past is indeed prologue."—Samuel G. Freedman, author of Jew Vs. Jew"New York was as divided by class, race, and ideology a century ago as it is in our own time. That the city actually exploded in 1914 is not surprising. What is surprising is how subtly, persuasively, and imaginatively Thai Jones has interpreted the period and brought a rich cast of characters to life. More Powerful Than Dynamite is an exciting book."—Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City"Thai Jones brings into vivid life a period of American history when the haves and the have nots were close to civil war, a fascinating recreation of people we have forgotten at our own peril. An enjoyable and enlightening read."—Marge Piercy, poet, novelist, memoirist"A compelling and layered portrait of a year, a nation, and a people on the verge, More Powerful Than Dynamite is filled with echoes that clamor in contemporary America. The writing itself is so rich and powerful, the selection of scenes so smart, the details so telling, that it reads like an epic novel."—Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Weather Underground and author of Fugitive DayPraise for A Radical Line: "[T]his book begins with an intensely dramatic scene, and continues to fascinate the reader right through to the end. We follow a group of people—especially the notorious "Weather" people—who are at the center of the extraordinary events of the Sixties. Abstractions like "radicalism", "pacifism" "violence" are given a human face, as we see the characters in this book struggle, often in troubling ways, for a world free of war and injustice." —Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States