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Ain't Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find…

Ain't Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry

by Scott Reynolds Nelson

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What an amazing book! This isn’t just the story of John Henry, this is a mystery story. If ever there was a book that would get kids excited about research this is it. Nelson does an amazing job presenting his methods in searching for the real John Henry. He make sure to say it is only conjecture that the records he found are about the real John Henry, but they are very convincing. As the author found more clues, encountered more dead ends, the reader was sucked into what most people would consider a very dry subject, research! I would recommend this to kids interested in history, research, and folk tales. I would also highly recommend this as a book for teachers to assign before teaching students about research. There are also great resources for readers interested in John Henry and a section called “How to Become a Historian” by coauthor Mark Arnson. I cannot say enough good things about this book. ( )
  Anna.Nash | Mar 18, 2014 |
This book was great. The writing was infectious and kept you on your toes waiting to see what Nelson found next. He spread out his evidence to support his claims very well, and he is clear when he cannot concretely prove something. He never states his theory as absolute fact. Which I feel is incredibly important. It is no good for a historian to make absolute claims with evidence that only mostly supports it and a terrible thing to teach children.
The pictures he included were perfect examples of life during that time, and making the book sepia colored kept the reader in the past. ( )
  Jill.Haner | Feb 16, 2014 |
I really liked the way that this book was written and the pictures that the author used,
  Ashabani | Jun 11, 2013 |
Loved this book. Very interesting information about the railroad workers and the origins of the songs and tales about John Henry. This is a great way to talk about slavery, what happened after slavery, and to remember an injustice which has been forgotten about. It would be ethical to present this information along side the story of John Henry which I was taught as a child.
  kellw | Mar 18, 2013 |
Wow, what an amazing book. Nelson had heard a song about a man named John Henry. In the song, John Henry has a competition with a steam drill and after he wins, he drops dead.
Nelson has been researching history to find this John Henry. Through his search, he has come across quite a few John Henry's, but possibly not the one from the song. The illustrations are really wonderful. They give a really good sense of what life was like back during this period of time when black people were slaves and whites treated them like property and not people. Nelson gives a lot of historical facts throughout the book. For example, he talks about the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. There was a connection with this tunnel and one John Henry.
Throughout the book, we don't know for sure if the John Henry of the song is found, but Nelson keeps looking and researching and going from clue to clue unraveling the mystery of this man.
Nelson shows how research can take you to a lot of different places that keep you going further to find out something else.
  audreydodge | Nov 27, 2012 |
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To another John, John Nelson, who taught his sons that to understand something you have to take it apart, and to love something you need to put it back together again. 1938-2007
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October 1998: I was sitting at my desk at home, staring at the computer screen, stuck.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 142630000X, Hardcover)

Who was the real John Henry? The story of this legendary African-American figure has come down to us in so many songs, stories, and plays, that the facts are often lost. Historian Scott Nelson brings John Henry alive for young readers in his personal quest for the true story of the man behind the myth. Nelson presents the famous folk song as a mystery to be unraveled, identifying the embedded clues within the lyrics, which he examines to uncover many surprising truths. He investigates the legend and reveals the real John Henry in this beautifully illustrated book.

Nelson’s narrative is multilayered, interweaving the story of the building of the railroads, the period of Reconstruction, folk tales, American mythology, and an exploration of the tradition of work songs and their evolution into blues and rock and roll. This is also the story of the author’s search for the flesh-and-blood man who became an American folk hero; Nelson gives a first-person account of how the historian works, showing history as a process of discovery. Readers rediscover an African-American folk hero. We meet John Henry, the man who worked for the railroad, driving steel spikes. When the railroad threatens to replace workers with a steam-powered hammer, John Henry bets that he can drive the beams into the ground faster than the machine. He wins the contest, but dies in the effort.

Nelson’s vibrant text, combined with archival images, brings a new perspective and focus to the life and times of this American legend.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:17 -0400)

Historian Scott Reynolds Nelson recounts how he came to discover the real John Henry, an African-American railroad worker who became a legend in the famous song.

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