Scott Miller

If the name Leon Czolgosz is remotely familiar to you, it may be as one of the pathetic gunmen in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. But the killer of William McKinley gets a more serious look from Scott Miller, a veteran journalist lately settled in Seattle. His The President and the Assassin (Random House, $25) brings back into focus a distant era of breathtaking corruption—McKinley essentially had the presidency purchased for him by party bosses—and stark economic inequality. If, today, we worry that the Koch brothers and their secret, unlimited spending are subverting American democracy, democracy hardly existed in 1896. Republican puppeteer Mark Hanna, industrialists, and media barons Hearst and Pulitzer bought or manipulated public opinion and ballots. Strikers, mostly low-paid immigrants like Czolgosz, were violently suppressed by the government. Women couldn't vote and blacks were mostly disenfranchised. Only after Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley, following his 1901 assassination, would he, Wilson, and the Progressive era bring some of the reforms that the dimwitted anarchist Czolgosz fumbled toward. If anything, Miller is too even-handed in portraying the worst assassin, and arguably worst president, in U.S. history. (Also: Third Place, Fri., 6:30 p.m.) BRIAN MILLER

Wed., July 13, 7 p.m., 2011

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