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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Title    Author    Year    Contributors
Out of this Furnace

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What Others are Saying

Out of This Furnace

Author: Thomas Bell

Year Published: 1941

What Others are Saying:

  • This book tells the story of immigration, industrialization and the early years of the organized labor movement. It portrays three generations of western Pennsylvania steel mill families. A real world depiction (the novel could almost be considered non-fiction) of the impact of workplace injury and death linked to the demonstration of impact upon those families suffering the loss.
  • The story of so many families, including my own. Immigrant communities, workers' struggles, labor organizing, industrial history.
  • An honest and moving account of American labor history and a story that many Americans will recognize in their own family history.
  • Great book about three generations of steelworkers and immigrant labor in early 20th century America
  • Best-known work of the American writer Thomas Bell (1903–1961) and set in Pittsburgh region. Out of This Furnace highlights the role of immigration in the American industrialization. It emphasizes the rise of trade unions and the events that led to workplace reform. It is also an American working class novel. From Wikipedia: The novel is set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a steel town just east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the Monongahela River. It was first published in 1941 by Little, Brown and Company. Based upon Bell's own family of Rusyn and Slovak immigrants, the story follows three generations of a family, starting with their migration in 1881 from Austria-Hungary to the United States, and finishing with World War II. The novel focuses on the steelworkers' attempt to unionize from 1889, the first Homestead strike (mentioned by Andrej on p. 38) through the big Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, the Great Steel Strike of 1919 right after World War I, and the events of the 1930s (Labor Organizing). A common connection of struggle, poverty, and entire need of the characters of forces out of their control come together to tell a story of a tragic depiction of a truly troubled group of people. Shared with unbearable financial adversity, the Slovaks nicknamed "Hunkies" were also exposed to discrimination by other "Americans." The novel's title refers to the central role of the steel mill in the family's life and in the history of the Pittsburgh region. Long out of print, the novel was rediscovered in the 1970s by David P. Demarest, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, who convinced director Frederick A. Hetzel at the University of Pittsburgh Press to reissue it in 1976. The book quickly became a regional bestseller. By the 1980s, however, it found an even larger readership on American college campuses. Out of This Furnace is regularly used as required reading in universities to introduce students to the history of immigration, industrialization, and the rise of trade unionism, as well as to the genre of the American working class novel.
  • Compassionate depiction of the situation of immigrant steel workers in Pittsburgh (set specifically in Braddock, which is still reeling from post-industrial unemployment).
  • This book narrates the struggles of a fictional family who immigrated from eastern Europe to the Pittsburgh, PA region to work in the steel mills. Based on the author's true familly experiences, the Dobrejcak family becomes instrumental in the formation of the United Steel Workers' union in Andrew Carnegie's mills. As the daughter of a steel worker, I really appreciated the sacrifices that these brave immigrants made to improve the quality of life for those who worked in such horrible conditions to build this country.


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