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Big Trouble : A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets off a Struggle for the Soul of America

Lukas, J. Anthony

320 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0684808587 / ISBN 13: 9780684808581
Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, U.S.A., 1997
Condition: Fine Hardcover
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FINE/FINE copy protected by Archival Brodart cover. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000544

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Big Trouble : A Murder in a Small Western ...

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 1997

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.

About this title


From the author of Common Ground -- one of the most acclaimed books of recent years -- comes a grand narrative of the United States as it charged, full of hope and trepidation, into the twentieth century.

J. Anthony Lukas, a masterful storyteller, tells a mesmerizing tale -- of a terrible murder, a great trial, and the struggle they set off for the soul of America.

Big Trouble begins on a snowy evening at Christmas time 1905 in the little town of Caldwell, Idaho, to which the state's former governor, Frank Steunenberg, had returned to head his family bank while contemplating his political future. As he walked home that night, he sensed all about him the bold, exuberant, unashamedly acquisitive spirit of Caldwell's young entrepreneurs, who -- as his brother had written -- were "here for the money." Like so many in the West at that time, these brothers believed their prospects for enriching themselves were limitless, that the future opened wide before them.

ANd yet the governor suffered premonitions that he and his neighbors weren't fully in control of their own destiny, that something malign threatened their well-being.

Now, as he followed the plume of his frozen breath, his boots crunching eight inches of freshly frozen snow, he turned through his garden gate and a bomb attached to the gatepost blew him "into eternity."


In June 1997, just months before publication of his latest book, Big Trouble, Pulitzer-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas killed himself. He was 64 and, according to many accounts, had finally surrendered to a lifelong despair over what he saw as his inability to meet his own exceedingly high literary standards.

Yet in reading Big Trouble, a gripping account of murder and politics in turn-of-the-century Idaho, one can't help but think that Lukas was far too hard on himself. His last work is a well-told tale of the struggle between labor and capitalists in the West at a time when entire state legislatures were effectively owned by corporate interests and America teetered on the brink of open class warfare.

The story begins with the 1905 assassination of Frank Steunenberg, an ex- governor of Idaho. His murder was rumored to be the work of vengeful labor bosses, and Pinkerton detective James McParland tracked Wobbly organizer Big Bill Haywood all the way to Colorado to bring him back to stand trial, where he and two other men were defended by a team of lawyers that included Clarence Darrow.

During the writing of Common Ground, his account of Boston's painful process of school desegregation in the 1970s, Lukas became intrigued by what he called race's "twin issue": class. "The more I delved into Boston's crisis," he writes in the foreword to Big Trouble, "the more I found the conundrums of race and class inextricably intertwined." Class simply wasn't as overt an issue as race in contemporary society. What Lukas needed was a time and place where class and class struggle were open and visible. He found it in Idaho in 1905, a time of change and uncertainty, when any notion of a large American middle class was still a distant dream. In order to make this era comprehensible to modern readers, Lukas has gone great lengths in Big Trouble to re-create the entire social, political, and economic context of the murder trial. Here are the histories not simply of mining, railroads, and unions, but of detectives, "modern" journalism, baseball, land speculation, and frontier-town boosterism. In its capacity to translate historical facts into an engrossing, insightful read, Big Trouble stands as a final testament to Lukas's well-deserved reputation as a top reporter of America's growing pains.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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