Earlier works

Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West

"...a lively journalistic account."
Caleb Crain, in The New Yorker

"We must welcome this carefully-researched study of one of the most dramatic, violent, and important episodes in the history of labor struggles in this country."
-Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States

"Blood Passion is the definitive account o≠f a major landmark in the American struggle for social justice. And the way Scott Martelle tells the st≠ory is splendid proof that history can both be written as vividly as a nove≠l and also be documented with scrupulous care."

-Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves

How Blood Passion came about

A few years back I was reading a now-forgotten American history book and stumbled across a footnote reference to 100 men, women and children killed in a months-long war between striking coal miners and the Colorado National Guard. My first thought: Why didnít I know about that? I knew about the April 1914 Ludlow Massacre, when two mothers and 11 children died after marauding Guardsmen torched a strikers' tent colony. But the broader war came as a revelation. And it was telling that such a protracted showdown between capital and labor had been reduced to a literal footnote. History is written by the victors, and labor has not been victorious very often.

Curiosity drove me deeper into the history, with loose plans to write a magazine article on the Colorado Coal Field War Project, an archeological exploration of the Ludlow colony and the nearby Berwind mining camp. Led by Dean Saitta of the University of Denver, Philip Duke of Fort Lewis College in Durango, and Randall McGuire of the State University of New York at Binghamton, the 1999-2000 project was the first to treat the site as a place of archeological inquiry, trying to determine what life was like for the miners both before and during the strike. But it quickly became apparent to me that there was more material here than I could shoe-horn into a magazine piece. Blood Passion is the result.

Although Blood Passion explores the violent trajectory of a labor strike, it is not a work of labor history. Rather, it is a journalist's look back at a story of oppression and rebellion, of ordinary people revolting under a corrupt local political system, and of immigrants who discovered that if they wanted a piece of the American Dream they had better be ready to fight for it. A union helped them in that battle, and is an integral part of that history, but this book is about the combatants and the battles themselves.

From this country's earliest days, we have wrestled with the conflicting concepts of respecting our government and rebelling against it. Blood Passion is an attempt to knock some of the dust off this long-forgotten yet hugely emblematic moment in American history.

-- Scott Martelle

The Fear Within: Spies, Commies, and American Democracy on Trial

The Fear Within: Spies, Commies and American Democracy on Trial explores the 1949 trial of 11 leaders of the Communist Party-USA who were charged under the Smith Act with "teaching or advocating the necessity of overthrowing the United States government." They weren't charged with doing anything, just talking about it, without any specific plans for its actually happening. In essence, they were convicted and imprisoned by the United States government for their thoughts and beliefs.

I got launched on the project because I found the story fascinating, and relatively unexplored outside the realm of Cold War historians. I also found parallels to the USA Patriot Act, in that it and the Smith Act were enacted out of fear of the outside. It's a perverse phenomenon that in times of national crisis, the U.S. tends to undercut the principals it professes to be fighting to preserve -- in this case, freedom of speech and assembly, among others.

The 11 convictions were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court just after the Korean War broke out. But a change in the makeup of the court, and a lessening of the Red Scare passions, led the court six years later to effectively reverse itself and gut the Smith Act. But by then the men had each served five-year sentences (some more for going on the lam; some less for good behavior).

It's a fascinating story, complete with spies, riots, legal chicanery and intriguing characters.

The trailer, put together by Kathy Price-Robinson.

For teachers and reading groups:

If you're interested in having me discuss Blood Passion with your students or reading group, email me at scott (AT) scottmartelle.com. I'm available for such talks via Skype, which is a wonderful tool for this sort of thing.

About me

A third-generation journalist, I was born in Scarborough, Maine, and grew up there and in Wellsville, New York, about two hours south of Buffalo. My first newspaper job came at age 16, writing a high school sports column for the Wellsville Patriot, a weekly (defunct), then covering local news part-time for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.

After attending Fredonia State, where I was editor of The Leader newspaper and news director for WCVF campus radio, I worked in succession for the Jamestown Post-Journal, Rochester Times-Union (defunct), The Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times, where I covered presidential and other political campaigns, books, local news and features, including several Sunday magazine pieces.

Currently an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, my work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Sierra Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Orange Coast magazine, New York Times Book Review (books in brief), Buffalo News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), Solidarity (United Auto Workers) and elsewhere. I have taught journalism courses at Chapman University and UC Irvine, and speak occasionally at school and college classes about journalism, politics and writing. I've appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Literary Orange festival, moderated panels at the Nieman Conference in Narrative Journalism and the North American Labor History Conference, among others, and been featured on C-SPAN's Book TV.

I'm also a co-founder of The Journalism Shop, a group of journalists (most fellow former Los Angeles Times staffers) available for freelance assignments.

More About Blood Passion

A History Book Club selection...

If your book group is interested in reading and discussing Blood Passion, please email me through the Contact page -- I'm happy to answer questions or join the discussion electronically.

Click here for the BookTV coverage of the panel at the 2008 LA Times Festival of Books (our panel began at about the 3:07:00 mark).

And click on the picture below for the BookTV video of my reading in Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore.

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Photo by Andrew Martelle

Go to the Contact page to request information on buying a signed copy.

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