Jonathan Katz in conversation with David Talbot
City Lights celebrates the release of
Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire
by Jonathan Myerson Katz
published by St. Martin’s Press
A groundbreaking journey tracing America’s forgotten path to global power—and how its legacies shape our world today—told through the extraordinary life of a complicated Marine.
Smedley Butler was the most celebrated warfighter of his time. Bestselling books were written about him. Hollywood adored him. Wherever the flag went, “The Fighting Quaker” went—serving in nearly every major overseas conflict from the Spanish War of 1898 until the eve of World War II. From his first days as a 16-year-old recruit at the newly seized Guantánamo Bay, he blazed a path for empire: helping annex the Philippines and the land for the Panama Canal, leading troops in China (twice), and helping invade and occupy Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico, and more. Yet in retirement, Butler turned into a warrior against war, imperialism, and big business, declaring: “I was a racketeer for capitalism.”
Award-winning author Jonathan Myerson Katz traveled across the world—from China to Guantánamo, the mountains of Haiti to the Panama Canal—and pored over the personal letters of Butler, his fellow Marines, and his Quaker family on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Along the way, Katz shows how the consequences of the Marines’ actions are still very much alive: talking politics with a Sandinista commander in Nicaragua, getting a martial arts lesson from a devotee of the Boxer Rebellion in China, and getting cast as a P.O.W. extra in a Filipino movie about their American War. Tracing a path from the first wave of U.S. overseas expansionism to the rise of fascism in the 1930s to the crises of democracy in our own time, Gangsters of Capitalism tells an urgent story about a formative era most Americans have never learned about, but that the rest of the world cannot forget.
David Talbot is the esteemed author of four popular history books, and the founder and original editor in chief of one of the first entirely digital publications, Salon magazine. A former senior editor of Mother Jones magazine, Talbot is a journalist and columnist who has written for the New Yorker, Time, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. His book Season of the Witch was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller for four years and was the 2015 San Francisco One City One Book pick. His most recent book is titled By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution and was co-authored with his sister Margaret Talbot.
What has been said about Gangsters of Capitalism:
“A sensational read” —Mike Duncan, New York Times bestselling author and host of the Revolutions podcast
“A real page-turner.” —Noam Chomsky
“In an unsettling era in which Americans have been forced to contemplate the possible demise of their global empire, the remarkable life story of Smedley Butler is a primer on how that empire was wrought out of a string of long-obscured ‘small wars,’ coups and interventions a mere century ago… A clear-eyed, excitingly-told look at that history, and a bracing, necessary read for our times.” —Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: a Revolutionary Life
“Engaging … Gangsters of Capitalism is not only a biography of Butler. The long-dead Marine also serves as Katz’s Virgil, leading him on a journey around the world and through the inferno of empire’s afterlife.” —The New Republic
“An excellent, excellent book. Katz writes really beautifully about very ugly things. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.” —Spencer Ackerman, author of Reign of Terror
“Immensely readable.” —The Federalist
“A relevant, readable effort to link past American colonialism to the present impulse to install homegrown leaders for life.” —Kirkus
“Searing…An eye-opening portrait of American hubris.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“A taut, unnerving account…By following Butler’s bloody trail around the world, Katz thoughtfully reckons with empire’s true cost” —Daniel Immerwahr, professor of history at Northwestern University and author of How to Hide An Empire
“Butler was the Forrest Gump of US imperialism, in all the good and bad ways implied by that statement… Traveling in Butler’s footsteps, Jonathan Katz devastatingly documents the toll of US interference around the globe from the late nineteenth century well into our own.” —Andrea Pitzer, author of Icebound and One Long Night
“A stunning book, part secret history and part globe-spanning journalism. It brings to life one of the most interesting figures in our history, Butler, a military hero who challenged our deepest beliefs about American empire… Deeply reported and masterfully told, this book is indispensable reading from one of America’s most important foreign correspondents.” —Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of Kochland
“Katz is a wonderful writer and deep reporter who is perfectly poised to tell the story of American Empire.” —Peter Bergen, New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt
“May well be the most intrepid biography you will ever read… as compelling and colorful as the man himself… For anyone seeking to understand how the modern world came to be, Gangsters of Capitalism is an essential book.” —Ben Fountain, author of the National Book Award Finalist Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
This event is sponsored by the City Lights Foundation