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James Green, RIP



James Green, preeminent labor historian, has died. His books reached far beyond the academy to transform popular understanding of the United States’ most dramatic labor incidents. Probably his most famous book is Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided America. His last book was also brilliant. The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom brought the reality of the incredibly terrible lives of these workers and their rebellion that led to the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest civil uprising in the United States since the Civil War, into the public consciousness. His book was adapted by PBS into a documentary for The American Experience titled The Mine Wars, which is also quite excellent. A great historian and a great loss.

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  • Gregor Sansa

    Close your italics tag!

  • Bruce Vail

    This is indeed a loss. I only became familiar with Green a short time ago when I happened on his Haymarket book at the public library. It’s an outstanding piece of writing.

    I don’t want to be overly critical of the academy, but Green demonstrated it is possible to write about history in a popular style that is accessible to laymen while still maintaining a certain academic rigor. Not easy, but possible.

    • Ronan

      I actually have his Haymarket book on kindle, got it on sale for £2.15. I haven’t read it yet though (I guess this isn’t a particularly useful comment)

  • Bruce Vail

    Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest civil uprising in the United States since the Civil War,

    I guess we can debate what is meant exactly by ‘civil uprising’ but the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 is often cited as the largest, most widespread, and most violent labor conflict of the Gilded Age.

    In honor of Green’s work in Chicago I would cite for example the Battle of the Viaduct, in which some 30 workers were killed:


    The Battle of the Viaduct was, of course, one of only a number of similar conflicts during the Great Railroad Strike.

    • busker type

      Blair Mountain was unique in that it was an actual armed invasion of hostile territory by union forces. It wasn’t the largest labor struggle or the bloodiest, but it was quickly devolving into a full-scale shooting war when federal troops intervened. Conservative estimates put the miner’s army at 10,000 men, almost all of them armed and many of them veterans of WWI who knew something about how to fight a war.

      maybe “largest armed civil uprising since the civil war” is a better description.

  • keta

    Not to detract from or minimize Green’s contributions but just a note that American writer Michael Herr also died this past week.

    Born in 1940, Herr was one of the most respected writers of New Journalism, the novelistic reportage pioneered by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, where the journalist is as much part of the story as their subject. He practised this most famously in his book Dispatches, about his time working as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine in Vietnam between 1967 to 1969.
    Using traditionally literary techniques to convey the harsh realities of the war he experienced firsthand, Herr produced a unique, uncensored account of life among the conscripted troops. He avoided the US government’s daily press conferences, instead placing himself among the soldiers to document the fear, exhaustion and drugs he saw among the fighters.

    The accolades for Dispatches are well-earned and it’s one of those rare books that can be recommended without reservation.

    Herr later became friends with Stanley Kubrick and eventually wrote a biography of the iconic director, Kubrick. This Vanity Fair piece from 2000, shortly after Kubrick’s death, gives a sense of Herr’s journalistic style.

    • John Revolta

      I was surprised and amused to see bits of Dispatches turn up years later in Full Metal Jacket.

      • keta

        Yeah, he co-wrote the screenplay. Also the narrative bits in Apocalypse Now.

  • I read his World of the Worker long ago.

  • los

    haven’t read any, but curious, I saw this critical review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3S8812D8YH6E7/

    • That really reads to me like someone with an agenda, i.e., a competing book that others haven’t read. The level of detail in that review is too deep to just be some random labor historian with some other axe to grind.

      • busker type

        Wes Harris was involved in publishing and promoting William C. Blizzard’s (son of Bill Blizzard) book “When Miners March”. An account of the WV mine wars first published in serial form in the 50s.

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