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Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town Paperback – August 23, 2011


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Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town + Steel: The Story of Pittsburgh's Iron and Steel Industry 1852   -  1902 + And the Wolf Finally Came: The Decline and Fall of the American Steel Industry (Pih Series in Social and Labor History)
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The American mill town in Rudacille’s book is Dundalk, Maryland, developed as Bethlehem Steel’s company burg for its enormous Sparrows Point complex near Baltimore. In this account of town and factory, Rudacille spans the century-plus since construction of a steel mill began, in 1887. Delivering a rust-belt story in outline, the author in substance recounts the tough conditions of steel-mill work, bargaining between the company and the union, and the racial and ethnic sociology of the workforce. A daughter of a Bethlehem steelworker, Rudacille deploys her familiarity with the steelmaking life to the benefit of her narrative, peppering it with her own anecdotes as well as those of her interviewees. Now-retired workers recollect the 1950s as the acme of prosperity, when production and employment peaked, while to others, occupational hazards such as asbestos exposure, pollution of surrounding waters, and racial discrimination belie the golden-age memory of a strong union and high wages and benefits. Capturing workers’ experiences with a company emblematic of American steel’s decline, Rudacille’s work is a poignant contribution to American labor history. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“A kind of people’s history of the American industrial era—a warts-and-all portrait of a vanished age of labor.”
Urbanite Magazine

“Rudacille tells the history of the steel industry from its epicenter. . . . Her book is about much more than American labor; it’s about the elusive American Dream, once achieved and now deferred.”­
Baltimore Magazine

“With a rare combination of personal empathy and clear-eyed reportage, Deborah Rudacille has gone to the heart of Dundalk, Maryland and emerged with a careful, cohesive case-study of the American dream abandoned. For a relatively brief period, the United States reached its apogee on the world stage by validating its workers and their basic aspirations. In tough and unforgiving places like Baltimore’s Bethlehem Sparrows Point complex, the world’s most vibrant middle-class—indeed, a consumer class beyond any prior reckoning—was forged to fuel the economy of a great power. But now, only rust. Roots of Steel is nothing less than a chronicle of a great society unmoored, and Rudacille, at the heart of this reflection, aptly quotes the prescience of union stalwart John L. Lewis: ‘The future of labor is the future of America.’ God help us.” 
—David Simon, creator of The Wire

“A masterful document of the mill’s history and politics, and what it means for us now. . . . A rather unique combination of personal narrative and memories, and dozens of interviews with millworkers and their families mixed with the cold, hard facts of the steel industry’s boom and bust. . . . You read about the stories of the Sparrows Point workers—so much forgotten outside of Dundalk union halls—and you can’t help but think of how much they match the stories of soldiers in wartime, themselves often forgotten outside of VFW halls and working-class living rooms.”
Baltimore City Paper

“Deborah Rudacille’s latest book is a well-informed, engagingly written elegy to Baltimore steel as it’s gone to rust—by an excellent writer with every reason to take this story personally.” 
—Madison Smartt Bell, author of Devil’s Dream and All Souls’ Rising

“Capturing workers’ experiences with a company emblematic of American steel’s decline, Rudacille work is a poignant contribution to American labor history.”
Booklist

“At once a history of one of the nation’s mightiest manufacturing plants and an homage to the people whose efforts made it thrive.”
Style Magazine (Baltimore)

“[An] affecting portrait of a decaying loop on the Rust Belt . . . Rudacille has delivered a book that would do Studs Terkel proud, partaking of his oral-historical approach to the past at turns, imbued with his pro-labor spirit throughout. Required reading for activists and for those wondering where things went wrong for America’s working people.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Deborah Rudacille’s dirty and beautiful history of Baltimore steel is also a history of America. The steel manufactured in these Baltimore plants helped to build American icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, Madison Square Garden, and the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Roots of Steel is full of stories of hard work and pollution, war and unions, the American dream and bankruptcy.” 
—Michael Kimball, author of Dear Everybody
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400095891
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095896
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #634,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Deborah Rudacille is an independent journalist and science writer. She lives in Baltimore Maryland. Her first book, The Scalpel and the Butterfly (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), was named one of the year's best nonfiction books by the Los Angeles Times. The Riddle of Gender (Pantheon, 2004) was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Her new book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town is about her family and community and the rise and fall of the American working class. More information is available on her website at http://www.deborahrudacille.com

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James Denny on March 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In "Roots of Steel, Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town," Deborah Rudacille brings to life the rise and fall of steelmaking in an American community that she knows well, her hometown.

Her first-person narrative begins with the building of the first steelmaking operation at Sparrow's Point, Maryland in the last decades of the 19th century and continues to the present. Adjacent to the original Sparrow's Point mill site was the company town. Ten miles from downtown Baltimore, it could have been a coal or steel company town in a remote corner of Pennsylvania. Sparrow's Point was for many years, a world unto itself, insular and largely self-sufficient. During World War I, expansion of the steel works resulted in the creation of Dundalk, the new epicenter for the steelworking community in the Baltimore area.

Rudacille chronicles the success of what became Bethlehem Steel at Sparrow's Point through the glory years of World War I, World War II and the 1950's. At its peak, this was the largest steel works in the United States. Her narrative is replete with personal details and stories taken from active and retired steelworkers, some of whom were her immediate family members.

The oral history from steelworkers and community insiders is rich and very much in the Studs Terkel tradition where Rudacille allows each of her subjects to speak in his or her own voice. Grammar, syntax and vernacular are quoted directly; there is authenticity to each voice.

In the tradition of foreign policy wonks who fifty years ago vigorously debated and opined on the subject of "who lost China," there is an underlying angst to "Roots of Steel" as regards who should be blamed for the decline of steelmaking in America. Are the top managers of the great steel companies like U.S.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Augustus Jennings on June 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
What wonderful sad story about Baltimore's lost blue-collar workers. "Baw-Mo" or "Balmor" - depending on whether you're native born black or white - reminds me so much of Detroit during its manufacturing heyday in the 1950's...and its eventual decline and decay. African American workers were usually limited to the lowest paying and most dangerous unskilled jobs in heavy metal industries like steel mills, auto plants, railroads AND every other place of employment in the USA. For many years color codes excluded Blacks from labor unions that restricted membership to "native-born whites". My Dad worked for Chrysler in the Motor City - until he was laid off in 1958 - and was always talking about the racial discrimination at Briggs, GM, Fisher Body, and Ford.

Deborah Rudacille paints an un-romanticized picture of racial conditions in Sparrows Point , Baltimore, and the United States in this sensitive, heartfelt, and inspiring story. The wonderful book cover should alert you that Deborah pulls no punches and is gonna tell it like it I-S is. ROOTS is an all-inclusive historically-correct history book that educates, entertains and accurately describes "Charm City", a bustling northern industrial city with a slow-as-molasses southern flavor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By craftypat on December 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being from the area, and married to a steelworker, I found this book very educational. There was so much in it that I didn't know. It was nice to read about some of the people I personally know or knew in school. This business was such an integral part of Edgemere, Sparrows Point, and surrounding communities. To see what it has done to the neighborhoods, and to peoples' lives, is so sad and tragic. How unfortunate that the heads of the company in various stages looked out for themselves first and the workers who made them last!! I don't think America will ever be the great nation it once was.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By judy on June 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting history of the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, near Baltimore. It is unapologetically slanted toward the lives of the workers, the author having come from a "steelmaking" family. It describes, with many quotes from personal interviews, the ups and downs of working there over the course of the 20th century. If you want the full picture, you should also read a more "objective" book, like "Making Steel". But this is a most worthwhile book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Schneider on August 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
With a panoramic study of Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore, all sorts of complex issues are conveyed - labor relations, race, unions, the American healthcare problem, and the slow decline of US manufacturing. There are quotes from workers throughout the book which makes the story real and engaging. I like the fact that the author grew up right near the mill and conveyed her personal observations. It is an objective view of the rise and fall of an industry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joel R. Dennis on March 30, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought it was an outstanding read. My great grandfather, grand father, and father all worked and retired from "The Point". It gives a great appreciation on how life was as a steelworker.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A heartfelt history written from the source, eastern Baltimore County, that invokes the triumph, pain and death of the middle class life in America.
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