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On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a Chicago labor rally, wounding dozens of policemen, seven of whom eventually died. A wave of mass hysteria swept the country, leading to a sensational trial, that culminated in four controversial executions, and dealt a blow to the labor movement from which it would take decades to recover. Historian James Green recounts the rise of the first great labor movement in the wake of the Civil War and brings to life an epic twenty-year struggle for the eight-hour workday.
Blending a gripping narrative, outsized characters and a panoramic portrait of a major social movement, Death in the Haymarket is an important addition to the history of American capitalism and a moving story about the class tensions at the heart of Gilded Age America.
“Green conveys a rich social history of the city, focusing not just on its immigrant workers but on its social classes, their relations, and the ways in which these affected all aspects of urban life. . . . Green provides a particularly vibrant evocation of the city’s radical working-class cultures and especially that created by German immigrants. . . . Situated in a particular time and place, based on a wide reading of the literature, vivid in detail, and extremely well written, this is an ideal book for teaching the history and implications of industrialization—the transformation of work through division of labor and the creation of distinct ethnic communities through massive immigration.” —James R. Barrett, Labor
“Green has mastered the massive historical literature on Haymarket . . . and succeeds admirably in contextualizing the events of 1886–87. . . . It would make an excellent text for courses on the Gilded Age, labor history, Chicago history, or the history of radicalism, among others. But its message transcends labor history, radicalism, and Chicago. Imprisoning or hanging eight men for the beliefs carried profound implications for the image of the United States as the land of liberty.” —Jack S. Blocker, Jr., Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era
“James Green, deftly retells in chronological fashion the oft-told story of Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket bombing in terms of that event’s relationship to the broader class divisions and labor-capital violence that rocked and shocked post-Civil War, urban-industrial America, and Chicago in particular. This richly textured situating of the Haymarket affair in its larger social context, and the author’s penetrating understanding of that event as a major turning point in United States history, constitute the book’s most important and distinctive contributions. . . . The book is clearly written, generally well paced, solidly researched, extensively illustrated with contemporary images, and acutely attuned to the fear and hatred that played so important a role in the high levels class hostility and violence of the Gilded Age, never more evident than in Chicago. It deserves and will find wide readership. Instructors of specialized undergraduate and graduate courses dealing with the labor, immigration, urban, and/or economic history of late-nineteenth century America will want to assign all or part of it.” — Gregory Kaster (Gustavus Adolphus College), The History Teacher
“For a few perilous days in the spring of 1886, Chicago shuddered with class warfare. James Green’s recreation of that terrible moment exposes the deep divisions that marred America at the dawn of the industrial age. As the nation again struggles with wrenching economic change, we need to hear the story that Death in the Haymarket so passionately tells.” —Kevin Boyle, National Book Award-winning author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age
“Armed with the research tools of the historian and the literary skill of the novelist, Jim Green tells the dramatic story of Haymarket, and of the world of Chicago labor in the late 19th century, better than it has ever been told before.” —Eric Foner, author of Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction
“The Haymarket affair was a pivotal event in U.S. history—for the left, for the labor movement, and for the nation’s political future. James Green explains its significance with a scholar’s sure grasp of context and a story-teller’s skill at weaving a dramatic narrative. This is radical history at its best.” —Michael Kazin, Professor of History, Georgetown University, and author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
“Green’s dramatic narrative tells a powerful story about injustice, passion, prejudice, and fanaticism. It also makes a convincing case for the importance of Haymarket as a pivotal event that laid bare the competing visions of American society that animated conflicts over power and politics in 19th Century America that deserves to be remembered and debated.” —Eric Arnesen, Chicago Sunday Tribune
“If you want to know about the Haymarket affair, there’s a dazzling array of sources to choose from. But if you must choose just one, read James Green’s Death in the Haymarket. It tells the tale with extraordinary grace. Its simplicity of expression carries an understated dramatic charge that stays with you long after finishing. Its collection of newspaper illustrations, cartoons and photographs heightens the tactile evocation of an age that now seems so remote. Moreover, Green deftly uses the Haymarket story to peer deep inside the fears and hopes of a nation living on the knife-edge of social catastrophe.” —Steve Fraser, The Nation
“No potboiler on the best-seller list can compete with Death in the Haymarket for narrative GRIP. Rich in character, profound in resonance, shot-through with violence, set in the immigrant neighborhoods, meeting halls, and saloons of the capitol of the American 19th century, here is a Chicago of life—part labor-history, part immigrant history, part courtroom drama. James Green's subject is the stuff of tragic drama—injustice and betrayal. Green renews that horror and shame for our time. ‘It takes a mighty theme to pull a mighty book,’ Herman Melville wrote, in what could be a one-line review of Death in the Haymarket.” —Jack Beatty, Senior Editor, The Atlantic Monthly
“Explains through the story of one dramatic nineteenth century incident the roots of many of the contemporary union movement’s strengths and weaknesses. Green’s research methods are those of a detective, his writing style that of a novelist, and his product is about the most fateful labor rally in American history.” —John Nichols, The Progressive