The Edge of Anarchy

The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America

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“It’s an epic yarn and Jack Kelly tells it with Homeric power and sweep.” -Washington Times

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edge smallAt the peak of the Gilded Age a conflict in one of America’s largest factories exploded into the most extensive and threatening labor uprising in American history. The Edge of Anarchy tells the story of this epoch-making event.

The book transports the reader from the fabulous White City of the 1893 World’s Fair to the nation’s industrial heartland, where unprecedented hard times are brewing rage across the continent. In the summer of 1894, more than half a million desperate railroad workers went on strike. Riots broke out in Chicago and other major cities. The nation’s commerce ground to a halt—famine threatened isolated towns. The U.S. Attorney General declared the country to be on “the ragged edge of anarchy.”

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The Edge of Anarchy tells the story of people. George Pullman, king of the railroad sleeping car, was one of the era’s richest robber barons. Eugene Debs was its most powerful and idealistic labor leader. The two men came head-to-head in a dispute that some thought threatened America’s very foundations.

As tension grew day by day, President Grover Cleveland discarded conciliation and moved to break the strike with military force. Infantry and cavalry forces were dispatched to American cities. Disorder and vandalism were met with bullets and bayonets.

Many of the themes of The Edge of Anarchy could have been taken from today’s headlines. Industrial dislocation, a financial panic, persistent unemployment, vast inequality, the power and influence of corporation—the issues fought over in the 1890s are coming around again in what some call the New Gilded Age of our own time.

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