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review 2018-09-20 15:51
The essential study of a longtime labor leader
John L. Lewis: A Biography - Warren Van Tine,Melvyn Dubofsky

Given the erosion of organized labor in America today, it can be difficult to conceive that there was a time when labor leaders were national figures who exerted considerable economic and political influence. Perhaps the best example of this was John L. Lewis. As president of the United Mine Workers (UMW) for four decades, he led a union which played a critical role in the American economy, while his differences with the American Federation of Labor led him to disaffiliate from the body and create the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) instead, which played a leading role in organizing industrial unions in the late 1930s. Such was his stature that at his height people spoke of him as a potential president of the United States.

Such a figure deserves a well-researched and penetrating biography, which is what Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine have provided. Theirs is a rigorous account of Lewis's life, beginning with his early life in Iowa, through his initial work as a labor organizer, to his ascent to the presidency of the UMW in 1920 and his long struggles on behalf of his workers. Lewis became president of a union at a time when many workers were drawn to the appeal of socialism and communism. Lewis asserted his control of the union to suppress radicals, cementing his position over the course of the 1920s. While his dictatorial approach engendered criticism from other UMW leaders, by the end of the decade his dominance of the union was complete.

Yet Lewis's personal triumph contrasted sharply with the state of his union.  Despite the modest successes they enjoyed early in his tenure, the UMW was declining well before the Great Depression inflicted even greater poverty on thousands of miners. Yet President Franklin Roosevelt's administration gave unionization efforts a new life. A committed Republican, Lewis nonetheless supported Roosevelt's early New Deal, and sought to make the most of the opportunity provided by the administration to strengthen organized labor in the country. As the authors demonstrate, Lewis's efforts contributed greatly to the organization of workers in the steel and automobile industries during this period, though in the end Lewis found himself unable to work harmoniously with his counterparts in the CIO and he broke with the organization over the CIO's support for Roosevelt's bid for a third term as president.

Lewis spent the remaining two decades of his presidency denouncing the federal government's presence in labor relations and continuing his fight for the members of his union. Even after his retirement in 1960 he enjoyed an enormous degree respect from the UMW's rank-and-file members until his death, as well as a legendary reputation afterward. Reading Dubofsky and Van Tine's book give readers an appreciation as to how he earned it. Their detailed study recounts the numerous battles he fought on the behalf of his members to a degree that can be exhausting but which together provide a thorough understanding of his actions as their leader. By the end of the book it is difficult not to be impressed with all that he accomplished, particularly given the broader problems facing the coal industry at the time (ones which provide a valuable context for many of the issues facing it today). Because of this, Dubofsky and Van Tine's book is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about Lewis, his impact upon the country, and the history of the American coal industry — and, thanks to their labors, it is one unlikely to be bettered as a study of their subject.

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review 2018-09-02 16:59
An excellent introduction to the famous labor leader
Samuel Gompers and Organized Labor In Amer - Harold C. Livesay

From the mid-1880s until the early 1920s Samuel Gompers dominated organized labor in America. As the longtime president of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L), he played a major role in creating the first enduring national labor organization, an achievement even more remarkable given the considerable challenges facing such efforts during that era. In this short overview of his life and times Harold Livesay credits Gompers's success in his efforts to his pragmatic approach to the problem, one that, unlike those of many of his contemporaries, sought to create a labor movement that confirmed to contemporary society rather than seeking to remake it according to a utopian ideal.

 

As Livesay explains, Gompers came to this conclusion after years as a laborer and union activist. Born in London, he learned the trade of cigar making before emigrating to the United States with his family. As a member of the cigar makers union, Gompers flirted with socialism but was steered away from it by Karl Laurrell, a former Marxist whose cynicism about the movement rubbed off on his young protégé. Nevertheless, Gompers advocated a more inclusive vision of unionism then he would pursue later in his career, encouraging unions to accept workers of all skill levels as well as women and African Americans into their ranks.

 

What limited Gompers's advancement of these views was his belief in local control. As a time when many labor organizers pursued the chimera of a nationwide union of laborers, Gompers preferred to create a national association of local unions. A firm believer in the "federation" in the AF of L's name, he accepted their autonomy as necessary for their flexibility of action in response to their particular circumstances. While this contributed to the AF of L's success, it came at the price of limiting their scope mainly to craft-dominated trades, where workers were less endangered by industrialization than their counterparts in industries where automation led to the replacement of highly skilled craftsmen with unskilled laborers. Because he did not threaten the ability of manufacturers to control their labor force, Gompers was tolerated by the leaders of the new industrial order, with the benefits brought by unions restricted to a skilled minority of the American workforce.

 

Livesay describes the events of Gompers life in a narrative rich with analytical insights. A business historian rather than a specialist in labor history, his situation of Gompers's activities within the context of the broader currents of the Gilded Age American economy is a particular strength of his book, one that helps to explain both his subject's achievements and the limitations he faced. Though the work is dated and marred by a few errors, this book nonetheless remains a first-rate introduction to the famous labor leader, one whose life reveals the possibilities and constraints American workers faced during a transformative era in their nation's history.

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review 2018-08-12 18:08
When the Southwest was the far north
The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico - David J. Weber

Before the American Southwest was the American Southwest it was the northern frontier of Mexico, representing a third of the territory of the country after its leaders declared their independence from Span in 1821. What the region was like in the quarter century between its possession by Spain and its conquest by the United States is the subject of David J. Weber's book. It's a comprehensive work that begins by examining how the news of Augustin de Iturbide's declaration of independence was received in the region and concludes with the outbreak of the war that would lead to the U.S.'s annexation of the territory.

 

While Weber's text surveys the span of human activity in the territory, two themes emerge over the course of his text. The first is the sense of isolation for the Hispanic residents of the region. Independence was a fait accompli for them, one in which they had no say. In many ways little changed with the news, as the region went from being the sparsely settled northern region of Spain's empire in the Americans to the sparsely settled northern lands of the United States of Mexico. Many of the key issues and developments that defined the area during the last decades of Spanish control continued, with the Mexicans dealing with economic change and relations the Indians just as they had before. While independence meant shifts in the dynamics involved, these were concerns that engaged locals no matter who was in charge,

 

What changed most with Mexican independence was its relations with the United States. This emerges as the second theme of the book: the growing drift of the region into the U.S. orbit. Independence from Spain meant an end to the mercantilist policies restricting trade with the United States, just as the presence of Americans on the frontier was growing. American merchants and trappers eagerly entered the region in search of economic opportunities, establishing a visible presence for the U.S. while economically orienting the region to the northeast. Close behind them were American settlers, whose presence in Texas in particular disrupted the dynamics of the region. Mexican authorities were conflicted about this presence, welcoming the economic benefits brought by trade and the stabilizing effects of non-Indian settlement while increasingly wary of what would follow from the growing American interest in the region. Their concerns would be validated with the outbreak of war in 1846, as the American presence served as the wedge for annexation two years later.

 

Weber makes plain the factors that led to the region's takeover by the United States, yet this is only one of his book's many strengths. For while Weber details the growing interest in the region by many Americans it also tells the story of the residents themselves and the lives they led. His chapters highlight the many challenges they faced, from their limited resources to the indifference with which they were often treated by Mexican institutions and the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Such coverage illustrates the challenges of life on the frontier in the early 19th century while underscoring how annexation came about. In all it makes Weber's book essential reading for anyone interested in the region, as he fills in the valuable details of what proved a critical period of transition in its history.

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review 2018-08-01 22:30
THE HOLY GHOST SPEAKEASY AND REVIVAL by Terry Roberts
The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival - Terry Roberts

 

The American South in the 1920's was an interesting region. With religious folk preaching against the sins of drinking alcohol, and prohibition making it a prominent job option for those looking to make some money, here comes Jedidiah Robbins on his gospel train. With his team selling bibles, (and bottles out the back), he is a man full of contradiction. He is what made this book so compulsively readable.

 

Jed and his group tour mostly in Appalachia and find themselves in trouble there from time to time. With local lawman trying to keep law and order, with the KKK, (unhappy with the colorful nature of Jed's team), and the additional appearance of H.L. Mencken trying to unveil a scam, it seems there is never a dull moment.

 

I myself am not a religious type and I usually do not appreciate novels that attempt to preach at me, however stealthily that attempt may be. I do think some of that was going on here. It was my fascination with Jed Robbins that kept me going. I admit there were a few other characters that interested me as well-oddly enough-one of them was God himself.

 

I think if Jed were a through and through man of the cloth this book would have been boring. But Jed was a man of the world, and even if it wasn't he himself that was distributing that bootleg liquor, it was his team doing so, and it was with his full knowledge. They did some other things that many would deem ungodly as well. Yet somehow Jed walked the walk of a true believer and he was sometimes so sweet and kind, he brought a tear to my eye.

 

A quick note about the writing-Terry Roberts has a deft hand with language and that's another reason this book was so difficult to put down. I have several highlighted passages that I thought were just beautiful, but I can't quote them here until the book is released. (August 21, 2018, people! Mark your calendars!) A few times I just had to marvel over sentences that flowed like a mountain stream through my mind and emptied into the river of my heart. I may not be a religious person, but I am a spiritual person and the language here touched my spirit.

 

THE HOLY GHOST SPEAKEASY AND REVIVAL is worthy of your time. Even if you're not religious, even if historical fiction isn't your true thing, (I'm not and it isn't, but the title sucked me in), this is a wonderfully written book that will lead you down through the paths of Appalachia into an America that is long gone, but fondly remembered here.

 

Highly recommended!

 

*Thanks to Edelweiss and Turner Publishing for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review 2018-07-10 03:26
Ghostland - where we all live
Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

Disclosure:  I accessed this book through my local public library's digital collection.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of romance fiction and assorted non-fiction.

 

 

I truly enjoyed this book, and found the author's perspective both interesting and ultimately respectful of believers and skeptics alike.

 

It would be impossible, of course, for a single volume to catalogue all the thousands, perhaps millions, of alleged hauntings in this country.  Dickey can probably be accused with some justification of cherry-picking the examples he used to best illustrate his theories: among them that whether ghosts -- as the more or less embodied spirits of the dead -- are real or not, we need them.  And so we would have created them anyway even if they weren't real.

 

The aspect of the book that fascinated me the most was the way he deconstructed some of the most well-known and even well-documented hauntings, as evidence that it's in the creation of a ghostly narrative that fits what we collectively as a culture want the haunting to be that it comes alive, pun of course intended.

 

Because I'm not a fan of horror fiction -- it's all I can do to get through the least horrific Lovecraft for Halloween Bingo -- I can't say if the creation of a fictional haunting narrative follows that theory.  I do, however, think it applies to the gothic romance.  The haunting, the ghostly presence, has to integrate with the living characters in an organic way for the two stories to work with each other.

 

Recommended!

 

 

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