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Paperback Death in the Haymarket : A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America Book

ISBN: 1400033225

ISBN13: 9781400033225

Death in the Haymarket : A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

On May 4, 1886, a bomb exploded at a Chicago labor rally, wounding dozens of policemen, seven of whom eventually died. A wave of mass hysteria swept the country, leading to a sensational trial, that culminated in four controversial executions, and dealt a blow to the labor movement from which it would take decades to recover. Historian James Green recounts the rise of the first great labor movement in the wake of the Civil War and brings to life an...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings


I read this for my class on the Gilded Age. Its pretty interesting to look at the origins of labor rights and how far we've come.

Essential reading in US labor history

Comprehensive and carefully constructed discussion of labor relations in post civil-war US, leading up the Haymarket incident, and its aftermath. Surprisingly balanced, with discussions of how even the police officers involved did not benefit. Good for anyone interested in 19th century US history, Chicago history, and required reading on the US labor movement.

A very sobering account of the labor battles in early Industrial America

It is nice to see this book will soon be out in paperback making it available to a broader audience, because it is a much needed account of the early days of the labor movement in America. James Green has done a remarkable job of building the events that surrounded the notorious Haymarket bombing of 1886 by exploring the lives of the eight men who stood accused for inspiring the incident. He starts with the explosive incident, and then digs back into the archive of union organization in Chicago and the attempts to form a national labor union. While most of the figures were foreign born, one figure, Albert Parsons, hailed from Texas and became the most charismatic figure of the Chicago Eight. Green shows how the media, police and state militia were predominantly held under the influence of the industrialists, who felt it their god-given right to set the rules for the market economy at the time. While economic giants like McCormick and Pullman attempted to create more ameniable workplaces, even they refused to negotiate with unions, preferring instead to hire scabs and use the Pinkerton Agency to break strikes. The early socialist movement preferred to negotiate with the industrialists, knowing it was a long term process to get better pay and working conditions, but the anarchists felt that stronger resistance was necessary and labor leaders like Parsons and Spies became the spokesmen for the growing anarchist movement in America. The book chronicles the events that led up to the Haymarket bombing, illustrating the many attempts of the industrialists and indeed the city to quash the labor movements. While the mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, was sympathetic to the socialists, and relied heavily on their political organization, he was also cognizant of the stronghold the industrialists had on the city. One particular figure, Marshall Field, did more than anyone to harness the forces the city to defeat the unions, but nevertheless the unions flourished thanks in large part to the steady flow of European immigrants. Green connects the labor movement in America to that in Europe and how the two fed off each other, noting the strong influence of Marx and Bakunin on American labor leaders. It was this fear of foreign influence that the media used to help sway public opinion in favor of the industrialists, despite their well noted abuses of power. Whether you agree with the tactics of the anarchists or not, you will be enlightened by the depth of understanding that James Green demonstrates in this book. Most important is how Green links the events of 1886 with the ongoing labor struggle in the new age of globalization as industrialists take advantage of cheap labor much in the way they did 120 years ago, using every hook and crook to break labor organizations. He shows how the Chicago Eight became iconic figures in the international labor movement as a result of a bogus trial. Four were executed and one died in jail, who also faced execution

Important Topic fro Then and Now

As a Chicago ex-pat who loves every aspect of the great city's history I was pleased with this book. It takes a potentially dry subject, labor and social history, and weaves it into a compelling series of stories with Chicago as the backdrop. It may now seems surprising that people died over trying to get an 8 hour day into law but this is there and much more. The lives of the martyrs Parsons, Spies and the others jump out in a well documented and well written tale. The history of the organized labor movement was centered in Chicago. Today when workers rights and real wages and benefits seem to be in eclipse this book and the subject are still quite relevent. This book and Miller's "Chicago City of the Century" are a very good start if anyone wants to learn about the history of Chicago.

Exciting work of American Labor History

This book by James Green is great narrative history about maybe the most important event in the history of the U.S. working class. The characters are well drawn, the context is laid out nicely and the analysis is first rate. It is a sophisticated study without resorting to academic jargon. I normally don't write many reviews, but I had to when I saw that only two had been written so far. I really doubt that a better work of American history will be written this year. James Green is definitely a historian to watch.


What a carefully constructed work of love. The author's portrayal of the anarchist, socialist and labor movements in Chicago is riveting. I empathized with the desperation of the activists even as I disagreed with their rhetoric at times. Lucy & Albert Parsons and August Spies appeared to be absolutely dedicated to labor and civil rights activism. What a far-reaching legacy this event left behind.
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