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Synopsis

In the year that saw the start of World War I, the United States was itself on the verge of revolution: industrial depression in the east, striking coal miners in Colorado, and increasingly tense relations with Mexico. "There was blood in the air that year," a witness later recalled, "there truly was."

In New York, the year had opened with bright expectations, but 1914 quickly tumbled into disillusionment and violence. For John Purroy Mitchel, the city's new "boy mayor," the trouble started in January, when a crushing winter caused homeless shelters to overflow. By April, anarchist throngs paraded past industrialists' mansions, and tens of thousands filled Union Square demanding "Bread or Revolution." Then, on July 4, 1914, a detonation destroyed a seven-story Harlem tenement. It was the largest explosion the city had ever known. Among the dead were three bombmakers; incited by anarchist Alexander Berkman, they had been preparing to dynamite the estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of a plutocratic dynasty and widely vilified for a massacre of his company's striking workers in Colorado earlier that spring.

More Powerful Than Dynamite charts how anarchist anger, progressive idealism, and plutocratic paternalism converged in that July explosion. Its cast ranges from celebrated figures such as Emma Goldman, Upton Sinclair, and Andrew Carnegie to the fascinating and heretofore little known: Frank Tannenbaum, a homeless teenager who dared to lead his followers into the city's churches; police inspector Max Schmittberger, too honest for his department and too crooked for everyone else; and Becky Edelsohn, a young anarchist known for her red tights and for spitting in millionaires' faces. Historian and journalist Thai Jones creates a fascinating portrait of a city on the edge of chaos coming to terms with modernity.

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