BookBrowse Reviews American Lightning by Howard Blum

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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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A forgotten part of history, an original 'crime of the century', is enthrallingly brought to life

Upon reading the first couple pages of American Lightning, one comes across a list of characters that immediately signals that Howard Blum's work will read more like a mystery novel, than historical monograph. Blum states, "I had no ambitions to be a historian….It's a reporter's story." Really, Blum tries to play both roles. But the challenge with narrative history is to walk the fine line between entertainment and education, and it is easy to sense from his identification of American Lightning as a "sort of nonacademic history" that he is aiming towards the former.  While categorized as a "narrative history," the need to make the book absorbing and compelling, should not supersede the fact that this story has a concrete setting in the American historical record. Blum should have noted in the preface, not in the epilogue, that the quotations are documented...


Top: William J. Burns. 2nd: Clarence Darrow. 3rd: D.W. Griffith. Bottom: Harrison Gray Otis.
Right: The remains of the Los Angeles Times Building (1910)

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