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American history

Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town

Deborah Rudacille.
Publisher Pantheon  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
ISBN 9780375423680
Pages/Publication Date 290/2010
Daedalus Item Code 23529
This item is not available.
The science writer who gave us The Riddle of Gender here returns to her hometown roots to portray the rusting steel industry in America. When Deborah Rudacille was growing up in Dundalk, Maryland—Bethlehem Steel's company town just east of Baltimore—a worker at the Sparrows Point mill made more than enough to comfortably support a family. But since the 1960s, the decline of American manufacturing has put tens of thousands out of work and left the people of Dundalk pondering the broken promise of their American dream. Rudacille combines personal narrative, interviews, and research to capture the character and history of this once-prosperous community. She takes us from Sparrows Point's 19th-century origins to its height in the 20th century as one of the largest producers of steel in the world, helping to build America's bridges, skyscrapers, and battleships. She dissects the complicated racial, class, and gender politics that played out in the mill and its neighboring towns, and details both the arduous and dangerous work at the plant and the environmental cost of industrial progress to the air and the environmentally sensitive waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.

"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

"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."—Booklist

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