Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland

Edward McClelland, Author
Edward McClelland. Bloomsbury, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-60819-529-9
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-60819-544-2
Open Ebook - 978-1-60819-545-9
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It is no secret that the area surrounding the Great Lakes, once the beating heart of American manufacturing, has fallen on hard times. A native of Lansing, Mich., home of Oldsmobile, McClelland, author of Young Mr. Obama and The Third Coast, sets out to chart the rise and fall of these towns and the people who call them home. Whether he is talking about Flint, Mich., Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., or Homestead, Pa., he details similar stories: mills started by men like Ford or Carnegie that create jobs, union wars that help workers reach unprecedented middle-class prosperity, market or political changes that create cracks in the business causing it either move, lose market share to international competition, or simply go bankrupt, thereby creating pensioner filled ghost towns devoid of jobs and youth. The stories can be a bit repetitive, but McClelland’s knack for turning a phrase “My last two full-time jobs no longer exist. For a Generation-Xer, tales from the 1960s are employment porn.”) allows him to tie together these auto and steel towns and capture touching, personal tales so as to bring these dying municipalities back to life, if only on the page. Though the bright spots are few and far between, thanks to intervening stories of crime, drugs, and gangs, he tries his best to find tales of hopes, as in the revival of Homestead as a shopping destination or how one can now kayak down Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, once so polluted it would catch on fire. A reservoir of information about American manufacturing, labor unions, and social movements, McClelland’s book, ironically, stands as a testament to the simple truth that one steel worker told him: “You can’t grow an economy without making things, producing stuff.” (May)
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