Exquisite Words

Posted on June 6, 2011 by

Here are a couple passages from American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood, by Howard Blum, that are witty and really capture character:

It was well known that the detective and Rogers detested each other with the long-standing ill will that only the self-absorbed can find the patience to sustain.

and

Billy despised anarchists. In his long career he had arrested murderers, thieves, swindlers and crooked politicians, but he had a singularly deep, visceral hatred for anarchists. He thought they “lived without any regard for a single decent thing in life.” “They exist in a state of free love, are notoriously unfaithful to their mates thus chosen, and are so crooked that even in this class of rogues, there does not seem to be any hint of honor. That is, their way of looking at the world directly challenged his orderly, patriotic, churchgoing, monogamous, achieving middle-class life. And that, he knew with unshakeable certainty, was an unforgivable crime.

I found the content of this book to be very absorbing and it is a fast read, the kind of history one just rips through. But Blum’s central conceit is to tie together three lives, those of Clarence Darrow, detective William J. Burns and filmmaker D.W. Griffith, and I don’t think that ever quite comes off. Darrow and Burns definitely intertwined, but they glanced off Griffith–he just happened to be around.

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