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Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the…

Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend (edition 2008)

by Scott Reynolds Nelson

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Title:Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend
Authors:Scott Reynolds Nelson
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2008), Edition: 1, Paperback, 224 pages
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Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson



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Nelson explores the connections between mythology and history, and spinkes in a bit of historical methodology as well--and makes the whole thing fun to read. He demonstrates what a lot of persistence and a little imagination can accomplish. Reynolds was able to trace the legend of John Henry to its source (a free black man from New Jersey imprisoned in Virginia in the early days of Reconstruction)--and finds the real John Henry only stood 5 foot 1. He then follows the creation of the giant of legend.

For the teachers out there, I think this would work for an upper level college course (its main market, I believe), but would also work for a really bright high school class as well. ( )
  GregMiller | Dec 20, 2007 |
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To my grandfather, David George Brown.  A big man who died too young.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195300106, Hardcover)

The ballad "John Henry" is the most recorded folk song in American history and John Henry--the mighty railroad man who could blast through rock faster than a steam drill--is a towering figure in our culture. But for over a century, no one knew who the original John Henry was--or even if there was a real John Henry.
In Steel Drivin' Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson recounts the true story of the man behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a young Virginia convict who died working on one of the most dangerous enterprises of the time, the first rail route through the Appalachian Mountains. Using census data, penitentiary reports, and railroad company reports, Nelson reveals how John Henry, victimized by Virginia's notorious Black Codes, was shipped to the infamous Richmond Penitentiary to become prisoner number 497, and was forced to labor on the mile-long Lewis Tunnel for the C&O railroad. Nelson even confirms the legendary contest between John Henry and the steam drill (there was indeed a steam drill used to dig the Lewis Tunnel and the convicts in fact drilled faster).
Equally important, Nelson masterfully captures the life of the ballad of John Henry, tracing the song's evolution from the first printed score by blues legend W. C. Handy, to Carl Sandburg's use of the ballad to become the first "folk singer," to the upbeat version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. We see how the American Communist Party appropriated the image of John Henry as the idealized American worker, and even how John Henry became the precursor of such comic book super heroes as Superman or Captain America.
Attractively illustrated with numerous images, Steel Drivin' Man offers a marvelous portrait of a beloved folk song--and a true American legend.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:42 -0400)

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