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American Gunfight: The Plot to Kill President Truman--and the Shoot-out That Stopped It Paperback – Feb 6 2007
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On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, nearly assassinated President Harry Truman. If this historical fact surprises you, you're not alone. American Gunfight, a new account by suspense novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Stephen Hunter and journalist John Bainbridge Jr., examines this largely forgotten episode in meticulous detail, including the conspiracy surrounding it and the misconceptions associated with the would-be assassins. As the book makes clear, it's remarkable that these two men even came close to succeeding, given the disorganized nature of the plot. Intending to attack the president at the White House, they only learned in passing from a cab driver that it was being renovated and that Truman was in fact living at the nearby Blair House. When they made their assault on Blair House, they quickly lost their element of surprise when Collazo's gun misfired, leading to a 38-second shootout in front of the residence that left Torresola and one policeman dead. Meanwhile, Truman witnessed the action from an upstairs window.
At his ensuing trial, Collazo was depicted as a crazed fanatic, but the authors argue that this simplified assessment unnecessarily dismisses a potential political conspiracy involving Puerto Rican nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, who was believed by some to have masterminded the plot in an effort to bring attention to his cause. Hunter and Bainbridge provide in-depth portraits of Collazo and Torresola, as well as the Secret Service agent and three White House policemen who saved Truman's life. The descriptions of the remarkably light presidential security of the era reveal much about 1950s Washington, D.C., a time in which the president would take a daily walk around the neighborhood with just a bodyguard or two in tow. As a result of the attack, the Secret Service would forever change the way it guarded the president. This fast-paced book reads like a detective thriller, shifting quickly between various story lines and characters, including a second-by-second breakdown of the gunfight itself. The potboiler narrative may seem over the top at times, with its conjecture and imagined internal dialogue, but this comprehensive account succeeds in bringing this unlikely plot vividly to life. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, engaged in a sustained gun battle with Secret Service agents at Blair House. Their goal was to assassinate President Harry Truman. It's curious that the two men haven't found a place in popular memory like other presidential assailants. But this attempt deserves attention because it was explicitly political and because it permanently altered Secret Service practices. Hunter, esteemed for his film criticism and macho adventure novels, teams up with former Baltimore Sun journalist Bainbridge for this richly detailed account of the motives and destinies of virtually everyone connected to the skirmish. This is an ambitious attempt to achieve time-lapse history. The actual confrontation took less than a minute; rather than save it up for the end, the authors spread it across much of the book, interspersed with background material on the participants. The book reads like the product of a film lover/action novelist and a journalist rather than a work of history, with the shootout described in stream-of-consciousness, and melodramatic, cliff-hanging chapter endings. To the authors' credit, though, interpretations are presented as such, and their handling of the recorded events is not only convincing but compelling.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book starts out very well with little biographies of some of the people involved & a description of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement & some of the events in Puerto Rico that led to the assassination attempt in Washington, DC. Hunter is at his best in this book in describing the people inovlved & in giving enough of a history of the Secret Service, Puerto Rico, etc. without slowing his story down.
Reading this background information, it is easy to get excited about the desription of the gun battle that is coming. Hunter's specialty in his novels is writing about guns & gunfights & the book promises to be both informative & exciting when it gets to the gunfight itself. Unfortunately, when he does get to the gun battle, he falls into a sort of flashback/flash forward style of writing with very brief accounts of the assassination interspersed with more Puerto Rican history & more biographical information. As a result, the story of the actual assassination attempt becomes hard to follow & confusing & Hunter's incessant digressions rob the incident of its inherent interest & tension. He should have gotten the background stuff out of the way & then stayed with the events of the day--I'd have been willing to wait.
Hunter also has a tendency to repeat himself, especially when it comes to his opinions on the effects of being caught in a gunfight & his theories on how police marksmanship training should be conducted. Besides that fact that he tends to harp on these topics, the evidence he brings forth from this particular gun battle is thin. Of course, he may be right about what he says, but this gunfight isn't a good example of what he's trying to say--not to mention the fact that this sort of thing isn't what the book is ostensibly about. At another point, he devotes an entire chapter to a "point of view" description of part of the gunfight through the eyes of the participants. I felt this really fell flat, especially since he was simply repeating things he had just told us about without the fancy pov stylings.
This being said, the book is readable & fairly short so you can get through it in an evening, although it isn't the page-turner I had hoped it would be. And the best thing about reading it is that it will remind you of the good people who stand between people like you (& me) & the monsters of the world. God bless Les Coffelt & his family.
The authors introduce one of their interminable flashbacks at one point by saying "this book is about 38.5 seconds of gunfight, however ..." and therein lies the problem. This is undoubtedly a fascinating story, one with which most Americans are probably unfamiliar, and one that definitely deserves to be told. However, it would have read much easier as a 10- or 12-page magazine article; stretching it out into 325 pages really seems unnecessary.
American Gunfight provides a detailed look at the gunfight outside Blair House that left two men dead and three wounded, reviving the memory of American hero Les Coffelt, who almost certainly saved the President's life by killing one of the assassins even as he was bleeding out from three gunshot wounds. But the book goes well beyond the gunfight, branching out to explore the history of the men involved in the battle and the history of Puerto Rican nationalism. The book also takes on some of the common myths regarding the gunfight, in particular the theory that President Truman's life was never in danger.
The book's layout is somewhat distracting. The book jumps from the gunfight to background with each chapter, so the gunfight develops over the course of the entire work rather than being described as a discrete event. While it does serve as a useful means of introducing the characters and events surrounding the gunfight, I found it somewhat annoying. I also disliked the writers' tendency to mix tenses; in the middle of one paragraph they mix past and present with abandon.
Nonetheless, the book is well-researched and easy to read despite the issues I had with it, and I recommend it to anyone interested in President Truman, American history, or history in general.
This true tale of two committed Puerto Rican nationalists, who failed to assassinate then-President Harry Truman, renders the high hour of American imperialism. In its depiction of duty-bound, patriotic law enforcement officers, its revisits a type of American male mostly departed from the scene.
The gunfight designed to shed light on the plight of oppressed Puerto Rico, and gain the larger world's attention, lasted less than a minute. The authors make up for this lack of material with portraits of the few players who starred in the violent drama.
For the most part, the renderings are too in-depth and arrest the narrative's progress. The same goes for the detailed discussion of guns, their types, and the ways they are fired.
Less nettlesome and better-crafted is the background information on the political fortunes of Puerto Rico and how these spawned the would-be assassins.
It is a testimony to the long-ago happening's allure that a reader probably wades through the sea of superfluous facts, to see how something they already know turned out, turned out.
If you follow.
Nonetheless, Mssrs. Hunter and Bainbridge have done yeomens' work in creating a one-stop and shop nonfiction record of how things went down all those years ago.
Had they not dedicated themselves to the effort, this not-unimportant tragedy, its victims and heroes, would have been lost to the dustbin of history (as they say).
Though, at times, taxing their own narrative, they triumph with the scholastic challenge "An American Gunfight" posed.
Best for readers really looking into the history of Puerto Rican politics.