Beyond the Book: Background information when reading American Lightning

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American Lightning

Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century

By Howard Blum

American Lightning
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    352 pages.

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Beyond the Book

"Crimes of the Century"
Tacking down a precise date for when the term "Crime of the Century" was first utilized is not easy, but most scholars would attach the name of Jack the Ripper to the creation of that notorious slogan. The killing spree in 1888 that resulted in the deaths of at least five accountable victims and possibly ten more was never solved, but the fear it provoked in England, and across the world for that matter, is legendary.

In the United States, the list of highly publicized crimes is no less spectacular. Arguably, at the top of list is the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932. Yet, some 22 years earlier, Los Angeles newspaper headlines broadcast the shocking horror that Blum recaptures in American Lightning.


The Los Angeles Times journalists who referred to the explosion at their newspaper's headquarters as "the crime of the century" might have been inspired by the 1889 publication of The Crime of the Century by Henry Hunt. This 576-...

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