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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Some kind words about Blood Passion in Dissent

My first book -- I love that phrase, with its implied list of books that follow -- has been out for almost two years, but still occasionally gets some nice notice. A few months back it received a positive mention in a review/essay in The New Yorker (a rush for any author). And a reviewer in the newest issue of Dissent also has some nice things to say about it.

The review is only available online to subscribers, but here are a few salient graphs:

Scott Martelle is the latest journalist to tackle one of the epic
stories of bloody conflict in labor history—stories passed over by
academic historians who assumed they “had been done before.” But
newspaper writers who wrote history knew these were great American
dramas and jumped on them. Top New York Times journalists William
Serrin and J. Anthony Lukas were the first out of the gate with big
books on the Homestead steel workers and the Idaho mine wars—both
published in the 1990s. Other journalists followed with popular
histories of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: the Lawrence,
Massachusetts, Bread and Roses strike; and the Los Angeles Times
bombing of 1910, which was blamed on the McNamara brothers, two
militant iron workers whose case became a cause célèbre for the labor
movement.

Martelle’s account of the Ludlow affair is the best of these labor
history books by journalists. The author’s research is extremely
impressive, because he combines the skills of an investigative
reporter and a well-read historian. No previous account of the
1913-1914 coal war has included a list of all seventy-five people
killed in the struggle, complete with names and occupations.
Martelle’s meticulous census of the dead provides a strangely powerful
and illuminating appendix.

Scott Martelle’s talent as a writer is evident in his descriptions of
the physical landscape and the larger-than-life characters who fought
the great coal war. He is at his best writing about the bosses and
their malevolence toward the union. We have read this kind of thing
before, but in his hands characters like coal boss Lamont Montgomery
Bowers leap to life as men of creepy mendacity. A veteran of the
bitter Detroit newspaper strike, the author makes no bones about
siding with the workers, even when they gunned down unarmed strike
breakers. Indeed, Martelle feels no need to cover up or to excuse
violent actions by the strikers.

The author displays admirable discipline, providing limited background
information except for sharply drawn biographical sketches. He sticks
to the facts and compresses them into a dramatic 217-page treatment
that ends abruptly with an account of a mine explosion in 1917.
Perhaps Martelle’s powerful account will make the significance of
Ludlow apparent, but I think readers would have benefited from a more
explicit assessment.


He makes a fair enough point about my not stepping into the picture and drawing conclusions for the reader about the significance of the Ludlow Massacre, and the broader coal war. But that was, in fact, my point -- to do a journalistic retelling of what happened and try to sort out the myth from the historic record. But I could have offered a little more direction.

This is the best part of reading well thought-out critiques of your work -- it gives you fodder for how to make the next project better.
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