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The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon Hardcover – August 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Exhaustively researched. The story of Joe Hill is popular among Western and labor historians, but The Man Who Never Died may be the best biography of the lot. An absorbing narrative." - Denver Post
"Intriguing... a fast-paced chronicle of a life that would have gone unsung if not for Hill's martyrdom in the wake of a mockery of a trial." - Chicago Tribune
“Finally. A real Joe Hill biography. Asks all the right questions, digs deep for the answers and reads like a true crime drama à la David Simon.” —Steve Earle, singer-songwriter, author of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
"Adler meticulously examines the legal proceedings and makes a powerful case that Hill was railroaded by prosecutors intent on destroying him fro his association with  the hated Wobblies. Adler even finds new evidence that strongly supports Hill's alibi. Though HIll died young, Adler shows that his sardonic, resilient voice of political protest lived, leaving a powerful influence on folk singers such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Boby Dylan." - Boston Globe
“Joe Hill is a mythic, martyred figure in the history of American radicalism, part-labor organizer, part-songster. Bill Adler has done a fine job of rediscovering the man as well as the legend.” —
Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of History at Princeton University, author of Bob Dylan in America
"Adler's biography breaks new ground on Hill's life and the trial that made him a left-wing icon. In its detail and range, [his] book easily surpasses previous biographies of Hill." - Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
"Adler has produced a fully realized picture of [Hill], but also a gripping detective story that comes close to exonerating [him]." - Salt Lake Tribune
"‘I have lived like an artist,’ Joe Hill liked to say, ‘and I shall die like an artist.’  Now William Adler has given Hill’s remarkable story with an artist’s touch.  Careful, powerful, and profoundly moving, The Man Who Never Died is narrative history at its best." —Kevin Boyle, National Book Award-winning author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age
"William Adler, an investigative historian, delivers a controversial verdict... Mr. Adler concludes that Hill came to believe that he was worth far more to his cause as a symbol than as an individual. His rousing last words show him to be a man mindful of his legacy: 'Don't waste time in mourning. Organize!'"
"Well-researched revelations about the union martyr and prolific protest songwriter... Adler reveals the man beneath the myth, detailing the life that spawned the legend." —Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fascinating and groundbreaking biography... [Adler has] used the life of Hill to provide a sweeping portrait of militant labor activism in the period leading up to World War I." - Brooklyn Rail
"[Adler] writes beautifully about the life and legacy of Hill. Those who love history, a little bit of mystery and a beautifully written story that tugs at the heartstrings should enjoy The Man Who Never Died." - Deseret News
"A readable and informative history of the political, cultural, labor and religious undercurrents of life in Utah and, by extension, the U.S." - New York Journal of Books
"Well-researched and tightly woven... Adler produces the most complete account yet of Joe Hill's life." -
"Highly recommended. Appropriate for students and lay readers, this biography is an easy read, provides necessary historical context, and may successfully revive Hill in American popular consciousness." - Library Journal

"Adler tells the story with rare intelligence and verve." - Newcity Lit
"Adler delves into the case's evidence, motives and lack thereof with the spirit of a private investigator, smoothly combined with the detachment of an historian and the passion of an activist. A multi-layered whodunnit." - In These Times
"We are indebted to an author who pursues historical research with a persistence that brings to mind Ahab chasing the White Whale. Readers of The Man Who Never Died will find themselves immersed in and transfixed by the places and events of the American West a century ago.  With this book, William M. Adler offers an extraordinary opportunity to think hard about legal injustice, economic inequity, martyrdom, honor, and the limited power of mortality to silence the past." —Patricia Nelson Limerick, Center of the American West, University of Colorado, author of The Legacy of Conquest
"A very readable biography... Adler shows himself to be a prodigious researcher." - Washington Times
"Excellent… Adler’s prose is first rate, his analysis of history impeccable. He draws conclusions where appropriate, and presents an honest account, yet allows the reader to put together the final pieces of the puzzle.”—Union Review
“With journalistic brilliance and political passion, Bill Adler evokes and analyzes an era, a cause and a martyr whose execution still resonates through history.  Blending murder mystery with Movement history, he creates a gripping drama that is not only convincingly documented, but so well written that it's a palpable pleasure to read.  Almost 100 years after Joe Hill’s trial and death, Adler not only “dreams (he) saw Joe Hill last night,” he makes a forceful, eloquent and convincing case for Hill’s innocence.  Whether you believe his argument is right or wrong, he has finally given Joe Hill the fair trial and clear verdict he deserves.” —Si Kahn, organizer, songwriter, author of the musical play Joe Hill’s Last Will

“By giving the stories he heard from his fellow workers back to them in songs, Joe Hill inspired untold thousands to stand—and sing—in solidarity against the worst industrial and political abuses of his day. As Bill Adler makes clear in this richly told biography, Hill’s moral clarity and his fearless criticism of injustice can and should be the music of our times as well.” —Bob King, president, United Auto Workers

The Man Who Never Died reminds us that it took a people’s movement to create America’s middle class, and that people must get moving pronto ¬ for the bosses, bankers, BS-ers, and bastards are going all out to kill it. Adler gives us an epic of investigative reporting and narrative history that will lift you up and, once again, put the ‘move’ in movement. Don’t mourn, read this book, get out of the La-Z-Boy, and join the action.”—Jim Hightower, populist agitator and editor of the “Hightower Lowdown”
"I was delighted to discover that Adler's scrupulously researched and annotated book is also a page-turner. He's a wonderful writer - allowing Joe Hill to be as vivid and larger-than-life as I'm certain he was." — Anne Feeney, labor singer
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

William M. Adler is a freelance writer who has contributed to numerous publications, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, and the Texas Observer. He is the author of Land of Opportunity, about the rise and fall of a crack cocaine empire, and Mollie's Job, following the flight of one woman's factory job from the U.S. to Mexico. Adler lives with his wife and son in Denver, Colorado.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916966
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916968
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William M. Adler has written for many national and regional magazines, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and the Texas Observer. In addition to The Man Who Never Died, he has authored two other books of narrative nonfiction: Land of Opportunity (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995), an intimate look at the rise and fall of a crack cocaine empire, and Mollie's Job (Scribner, 2000), which follows the flight of a single factory job from the U.S. to Mexico over the course of fifty years. His work explores the intersection of individual lives and the larger forces of their times, and it describes the gap between American ideals and American realities. Adler lives with his wife and son in Colorado.

For more information about Adler and The Man Who Never Died, including tour dates, samples of Joe Hill's songs, and a gallery of archival images, see

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The first song I learned to play on the harmonica was "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," the labor organizing anthem popularized by Joan Baez. It's an easy, simple tune, as a labor anthem should be. But there was nothing simple or easy about the life or death of Joe Hill, as William Adler demonstrates in this excellent new biography. He examines the life, times and wrongful death of Joe Hill. It's a remarkable book and worth a read.

Joe Hill was a labor organizer, songwriter, political gadfly, and a Wobblie - a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He was convicted of murdering a grocery store owner and his son and executed by firing squad in Utah in 1915. He was almost certainly innocent. The only evidence against him was a bullet wound to his chest, which Hill refused to explain at trial. Labor unions from all over the world - as well folks like Helen Keller and President Woodrow Wilson - had asked the governor of Utah to spare Joe Hill. That didn't happen.

What Adler discovered in researching his book was a letter Hill's sweetheart, Hilda Erickson, wrote saying that Hill had told her he had been shot by her former fiancé, Otto Appelquist. The only explanation Hill ever gave for being shot was to the doctor who treated him, who said Hill told him he has been "shot by a rival suitor." In Hill's silence at trial, there was no corroboration. The Hilda Erickson letter closes that open circle.

The police had the man who was likely the real killer. Frank Z. Wilson was arrested near the grocery store. He had a bloody handkerchief. He also had a history of violent crimes - he later was involved in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago. Wilson lied repeatedly to the Utah police but then, inexplicably, he was released.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Donald S. Handy on October 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before I read this book, I didn't read much about Joe Hill, although I'd certainly heard about him. Perhaps the most information I had about him came from the lengthy Phil Ochs song, titled simply "Joe Hill."

This is a well-researched book. I learned quite a bit from it, not just about Joe Hill, but the labor movement in the early part of the last century, in the western United States and Canada, as well as life in Sweden in the last part of the 1800s. What is most important about it, to me, is not just the history of the person who has been described as "The first protest singer," but the overwhelming probability that the state of Utah murdered an innocent man. This has deep implications concerning the death penalty. It was disturbing for me to read the books conclusion, which dealt with the events surrounding Joe Hill's execution, at precisely the same moment of time that the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, who may also very well have been innocent.

The book itself, however, avoids editorializing about the subject of the death penalty, which may be a plus or minus for you. The author follows a "Just the facts" approach to his subject matter, which tends to make for a dry read. He also ends the book prematurely for me, at Joe Hill's funeral, when I would have enjoyed reading about the continuing legacy of the man.

Still, this is an important book, and I'm glad that I read it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Paul Hickey on January 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When a Utah firing squad executed labor union activist and songwriter Joe Hill on November 19, 1915, a legend was born, a murder mystery buried, and a travesty of injustice committed. The myth has endured on the political left and inspired modern musicians such as Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs. But more than anything, it showed how collective egos clashed with the pride of an individual so that both sides got what they wanted and yet nobody won.

William M. Adler makes all of this clear in his fine biography, "The Man Who Never Died -- The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon." In fact, Adler probably comes closer than anyone to writing the definitive account of Hill's sad story, and to conducting the most thorough investigation possible of the crime for which he was killed. But what makes this book especially fascinating is the way that Adler's research supports his subtitle. Throughout this tale, he gives events of 100 years ago a powerful contemporary relevance in terms of how what happened then can still teach us lessons today.

Then as now, economic inequality was a very real problem in the United States. As Adler notes in his Introduction: "A federal study in 1915 found one-third to one-half of the population living at a `near-starvation level' while 2 percent of Americans owned 60 percent of the nation's wealth."

Under these conditions, the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or "Wobblies" for short) took the opportunity to challenge corporate management with a form of "direct action" that had never been used as effectively in this country before.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Martin Blue-Norton on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My love of labor history and a need to know was well satisfied. The origin of 'pie in the sky' was a fun bit of trivia.Well worth the cost and a good addition to my library.
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