cover image An Alternative History of Pittsburgh

An Alternative History of Pittsburgh

Ed Simon. Belt, $16.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-948742-92-4

Pittsburgh native Simon (Furnace of this World), a staff writer at The Millions, explores “the major thematic concerns” of his hometown in this rich and idiosyncratic history. Beginning 300 million years ago, when Allegheny County was the swampy domain of giant amphibians and “sun-dappled mangroves,” the petrified remains of which formed western Pennsylvania’s extensive coal deposits, Simon spotlights “representative moments” from the region’s history, including the founding (c. 1142) of the Iroquois Confederacy by the Great Peacemaker, Deganawidah, and his follower, Hiawatha, and the birth of composer Stephen Foster in Pittsburgh on July 4, 1862. Simon also details Andrew Carnegie’s roots in the radical socialist politics of mid-19th-century Europe and sketches the steel baron’s rise from “bobbin-boy in a weaver’s shop” to “the richest man who ever lived”; notes the influences of Pittsburgh on famous sons including playwright August Wilson, jazz composer Billy Strayhorn, and artist Andy Warhol; and details how Democratic mayor David Lawrence and Republican financier Richard King Mellon partnered in the late 1940s to “completely redesign” the city’s “gritty, decayed, rusting core.” Though consequential events such as the collapse of the U.S. steel industry get relatively short shrift, Simon marshals his historical snapshots into an incisive survey of the region and its inhabitants. Even Pittsburgh history buffs will learn something new. (Apr.)