Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beverly Gage's "The Day Wall Street Exploded"

Beverly Gage teaches at Yale University. Her historical commentary has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, The Nation,,, and the Washington Post. She has appeared as a guest commentator on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and in Time magazine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, and reported the following:
The Day Wall Street Exploded addresses two of the hottest issues of our current political moment: terrorism and civil liberties, and the concentration of economic power on Wall Street. It’s a work of history, though, not a work of journalism.

When I began to research the book almost a decade ago, I envisioned it as a straightforward narrative history: an account of the terrorist attack that struck Wall Street on September 16, 1920, killing 38 people and wounding hundreds. As I engaged with that event in more depth, however, I realized that I couldn’t explain what happened in 1920 without giving a picture of the larger history of revolutionary terrorism in that era, from the Haymarket bombing of 1886 through the almost-forgotten nationwide bomb conspiracies of 1919.

P. 99 drops us into that bigger story—specifically, into the swirl of revolutionary politics and class antagonism that was New York City in 1912. The page describes how some of the greatest icons of the American left—anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, labor leader Bill Haywood—wrestled with the issue of terrorism as a moral and tactical dilemma. Though it may surprise most Americans in 2009, this was a healthy debate a century ago: Did prominent capitalists deserve to be assassinated or bombed for repressing the working class? If so, was it a good tactical move?

All in all, these debates make current antagonism toward Wall Street look decidedly mild by comparison.
Visit Beverly Gage's Yale faculty webpage, and learn more about The Day Wall Street Exploded at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue