Top critical review
11 people found this helpful
Wish I could recommend it
on June 7, 2013
I've long been a reader of history books, and try to expand the scope of my reading where possible. Having a professional interest in the labor movement and wanting to understand its history better, I thought this would be a good choice, and the positive reviews here made me enthusiastic to start it. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed, and cannot recommend this as a resource to those interested in labor history. Though the author is a good writer and storyteller, I feel that he has not painted an accurate picture of the movement, or given the lay reader enough substantive content to be worthy of a 700 page book.
To my mind, the problem with this book starts with the subtitle, "The Epic Story of Labor in America." The author is true to that label, and in his effort to tell an epic, compelling story, lets accurate history take the back seat. To this end, much of the book focuses on colorful anecdotes of individual strikes and labor actions, with little effort to tie them into the broader context of history. Most of these stories involve some of labor's more colorful characters, such as Emma Goldman, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, and their organization the IWW (Wobblies). But while these certainly are the most colorful characters and make the most fun stories, they are far from the most important part of labor history. At one point, the author mentions in passing that the Wobblies were an organization of 60,000 members, where as the more mainstream AFL was an organization of 3,000,000(!). Yet the bulk of the material focuses on the Wobblies. Where is the information about AFL organizing and bargaining strategy, analysis of the important industries and the important unions? There's very little here, and it's mostly a side note. Sam Gompers plays a very minor role in this book. The iconic Dan Tobin and his International Brotherhood of Teamsters are only mentioned as an afterthought.
Like I said, the author is a good storyteller, but that's all this is. It's sensationalist, skewed history. I wish I could recommend a book that gives a better represenation of the actual labor movement, but unfortunately I'm not aware of one.