A messy conglomeration of personalities make up this ill-focused yet engaging portrait of New York City on the verge of anarchy and war, 1914.
Chockablock with research and detail, journalist Jones’ second work (after A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience, 2004) includes everything except a clear thesis. If there is anything he is proving, it is his passion and respect for the players of that roiling, revolutionary time: anarchists like Emma Goldman and Alexander Beckman, reform-minded New York City mayor-elect John Purroy Mitchel, crusading journalists like Mother Jones and Uptown Sinclair and even the Christian idealist out of step with his plutocratic patriarch, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Jones moves chronologically throughout 1914, which opened after the relative harmony of the previous year. However, social evils in all facets of society were exposed by enlightened provocateurs like the young unemployed labor leader Frank Tannenbaum, who led fellow groups of unemployed into the city’s churches for shelter during that extremely harsh winter and was eventually arrested. Anarchists were on the march as well, supported by union protestors, often to violent effect; they taxed the resources and good will of the new mayor and his broad-minded new police commissioner, Arthur Woods. Employees at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, co-owned by Rockefeller but managed from a distance, went on strike, culminating in the so-called Ludlow Massacre, which prompted a sea change in Rockefeller Jr.’s antiquated views on collective organization and union rights. President Wilson struggled with turmoil in Mexico, calls for war in Europe and his own health, while a bomb probably designated for Rockefeller Jr. detonated accidentally in a Lexington Avenue apartment, killing three anarchists.
Jones provides deep research and nicely fleshed portraits but only partial synthesis of the information.