The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Monday, January 23, 2006

meet you in hell

I read, last week, a book of pop history that wasn't bad. Les Standiford's MEET YOU IN HELL: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America is an overview of the careers of Frick and Carnegie focusing on the men's personal and business relationship. The good about the book: it's vivid, it strives to give a fair portrait of each man (although I think Standiford comes down on a very wishy-washy "well, they did bad and good" standpoint), and it's pop history done well, that is, it keeps you reading. I tend to expect a little more rigor from history books--and it's not fair to judge this book by the standards of academic or scholarly writing--and I am suspicious of the Great Man theory of history, even of business history, that Standiford largely holds to. The problem with the book, if I were Standiford's editor, would have been that there is no shortage of biographies of Frick and Carnegie and that their personal relationship, while long and contentious, is essentially epitomized by Frick's handling of the Homestead Steel Strike. That historical event, of course, has been written about many times, by historians much more thorough than Standiford, and were I his editor I would have said "What are you going to say about this that hasn't already been said?" Standiford's book centers on Homestead; the first part is just a buildup to the narration of the strike, the middle an extended description of the strike (which is done well and vividly and uses first-person reports by both strikers and Pinkertons), and the last part of the book pretty much an extended "here's how Homestead affected these men's relationship." A good read, but a leisure read, certainly not (and nobody would mistake it for this) a primary source to consult on Homestead or on Frick or Carnegie.

I do now really need to take the tour of Clayton.


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