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As I am desperately trying to write the draft of my book on strikes, one of the things I’ve had to sacrifice is writing book reviews here. They take too long to do well. But I did want to note a few relatively recently published books I’ve read recently that could be of interest to you.

Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

This book got a lot of press, mostly for good reasons. Katznelson’s point that FDR had to rely on the South if he wanted to get any of his legislation passed and therefore had to compromise on all of it to preserve the racial order is highly useful, especially given the purity politics of the contemporary left that complains about incrementalism and then cites incredibly flawed and compromised New Deal legislation as counterexamples. So this is an invaluable point, richly detailed and also useful to show that many southern legislators could be quite economically progressive if the only beneficiaries were white people. But the half of the book on World War II really doesn’t add much to the story or the historical debate. And I’m really confused as to why, after a whole book on the Democratic Party needing to please the South, Katznelson does not discuss Truman’s decision to integrate the military in 1948.

Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia

Despite this book reinforcing my usual frustration with anthropological methodology (I get why people wouldn’t want their names used in a study like this. But if you are going to write “the largest coal producing county in West Virginia,” just name the damn county), this book asks a really vital question. We have lots of books on why people become activists. But isn’t the more useful question why don’t people become activists? Exploring the fight over mountaintop removal in West Virginia and the loyalty of West Virginians to coal despite what it does to their health and their land without actually providing many jobs, Bell helps answer this question. Very useful book. Highly recommended to those who take activism seriously.

Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South

Levine doesn’t exactly break new ground here, but this is a very good overview of the Civil War era, told with a focus on Southern planters watching their world fall apart around them. Reading the schadenfreude is not only interesting and insightful, but amusing too. Pretty good book. General readers will enjoy this.

Nancy Woloch, A Class by Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers

This is a very good overview of the complexities of sex-specific labor laws in the twentieth century. Did they protect women or do they hurt women by being paternalistic and cutting them out of jobs? Mostly, as Woloch demonstrates, they proved useful as wedges to creating broader labor law that covered both sexes. Unfortunately, people like Alice Paul and the National Labor Party saw it the other way and turned politically conservative, fighting not only sex-specific labor law, but all labor law. Woloch extends the book to the cases of the 1970s and 1980s where companies tried to exclude women workers by not allowing them to labor in hazardous jobs.

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  • wjts

    Despite this book reinforcing my usual frustration with anthropological methodology (I get why people wouldn’t want their names used in a study like this. But if you are going to write “the largest coal producing county in West Virginia,” just name the damn county)…

    If I ever finish my dissertation, I’ll be sure to give each and every one of the specimens I describe a name. Mrs. Fuzzy-Butthole, Sarah von Potto, Lemur McLemurface…

  • Bruce Vail

    I am going back to re-read Katznelson, but I recall one of the things I liked about the book was that it treats the war years 1941-1945 as part of The New Deal, while most of the other (limited) reading I have done works under the assumption that The New Deal ends in 1940 (or earlier).

    “Fear Itslef” is inarguably a great book

    • CP Norris

      I felt that all the good parts of “Fear Itself” had already appeared in the fantastic “When Affirmative Action Was White”.

      • Bruce Vail

        I think I’ll read that instead of re-reading ‘Fear.’

        Thanks.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Agreed. I liked the WWII stuff because it made the role of the segregationist wing of the party in advancing Cold War liberalism clear.

  • namekarb

    Any book on strikes would be remiss if it did not include a chapter on what was once America’s largest employers, American railroads. A synopsis of the Railway Labor Act and how it placed railroads and unions into a tort system complete with binding arbitration and restrictions on self help.

  • Jestak

    I will second the recommendations of both Fear Itself and The Fall of the House of Dixie.

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