cover image Shift Happens: The History of Labor in the United States

Shift Happens: The History of Labor in the United States

J. Albert Mann. HarperCollins, $19.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-0632-7348-1

In this exhaustive work, Mann (The Degenerates) offers an absorbing look at labor in the U.S., focusing on essential workers and the gig economy. Chapters divided into eras based on changing political and labor practices begin with Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) and his violent tactics to secure resources in 1492, and conclude with the implications of Covid-19. The impact of major historical moments, including the Great Depression and the civil rights movement, is engagingly explored alongside clear definitions of economic theories and principles. Mann furthermore emphasizes the exploitation of racial and gender inequalities by highlighting the ways in which white privilege and government policies ensured the success of figures such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller. Flippant phrasing (“God was super busy killing and maiming railroad men”) is sometimes jarring, and more recent periods are less thoroughly examined than their predecessors. Still, the narrative’s laser focus on organizing heroes and essential employees, and the power of unions and striking workers to enact change, results in powerful storytelling. Mann’s use of quoted documents and speeches, as well as a comprehensive bibliography, reflects extensive research. Ages 13–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (June)