The Day Wall Street Exploded: Anarchy in the USA

Why couldn't Beverly Gage have been my high school history teacher? Don't get me wrong, I had some great history teachers but never a great American History teacher and if The Day Wall Street Exploded is any indication, Beverly Gage is a great teacher.

Gage tells a forgotten or, at least in my case, unknown part of American History about time when labor and business seemed locked in a battle to the death. This isn't a story of Wall Street. It is a story of class war, of labor versus big business, about immigrants versus natives, about haves versus have nots, about people who've been thrown out or fled their homelands and came to America hoping to continue their fight against oppression. Oppression wasn’t in short supply. It takes a bit of effort to envision a time when work could, literally, kill you; when a day off probably meant you’d been injured on the job. Fighting for better pay and working conditions sometimes meant literally fighting. On occasion business owners fought back with guns. On fewer occasions, more militant workers returned the favor via dynamite.

Against this background, an explosion on Wall Street wasn’t as surprising as it might first seem. Wall Street, especially J. P. Morgan, was seen as being the power behind big business. There was no shortage of suspects or suspect groups. Gage follows the threads of these suspects going back to the Haymarket explosion to the "first" anarchist to hit our shores (Johann Most) to the Wobblies and Big Bill Hayward, Emma Goldman, and one time presidential candidate and federal inmate Eugene Debs. She then moves on to the law side of the story with various agencies, police departments and the nascent Bureau of Investigation all trying to track to answer the question of who did it and why.

This is not a mystery story nor is it true crime – you won’t find a satisfying answer to the question above, for instance. What you will find is a very satisfying story of anarchist and Socialists in the United States in the early part of the 20th Century. This is an informative, entertaining book that is a must for anyone interested in American history.

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