Big Trouble

J. Anthony Lukas, Author Simon & Schuster $32.5 (880p) ISBN 978-0-684-80858-1
Lukas's impressive but flawed excursion into early-20th-century Western America is an even more ambitious project than his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning epic, Common Ground, which chronicled the Boston busing wars. His work on the earlier book, he reports here, led him from the American dilemma of race to ""the twin issue of class."" Thus he sought a story that would illuminate a time when American class tensions were large and in the open. This book is an exhaustive retelling of the 1905 murder (in the Idaho town of Caldwell) of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg (an enemy of labor), the trial of the union men accused of the crime, the context of the Western labor conflict and the passions the case provoked nationally. Melding prodigious research with energetic writing, Lukas delves deeply into a case that deserves notoriety as it involved the quasi-official kidnapping from Colorado of defendants like union leader Big Bill Haywood, coverage by an enormous corps of reporters and the courtroom presence of defense lawyer Clarence Darrow--who gained a surprising acquittal for the accused. Perhaps handicapped by inevitable distance from his characters (unlike in Common Ground), Lukas animates his tale with regular digressions, the history of private detectives, the background of an Army general Steunenberg called in to quell labor unrest, socialist factions in New York, a theatrical road company in Idaho and the emerging sport of baseball. While interesting, the digressions tend to obscure the central narrative. Lukas resurrects a fascinating case too long lost to history and even offers informed speculation that the defendants were guilty. However, the book doesn't take the opportunity to link the class questions of this era to subsequent clashes, and the profusion of detail may deter readers expecting the emotional punch of Common Ground. 100,000 first printing. (Sept.) FYI: Lukas committed suicide in June.
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 4 pages - 978-0-671-57626-4
Paperback - 875 pages - 978-0-684-84617-0
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