Sunday, October 24, 2010

Friday Review on Sunday, 10/24/2010

My weekend was consumed with Halloween parties and also subpar waffles. However, posting late means that I can actually review There's Power in a Union. So, let's get to it, shall we?

Philip Dray - There's Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America

"Epic" here seems to mean "long", and this book is WAAAY long. The chapters are long, the time frame is long, it's a long book. It's also a slow book. I don't know that any of these things make it a BAD book - in fact, there was quite a lot that I liked about the book - but it's the sort of book that  you need to know is going to take a long time to read - normally, as you know, I advocate borrowing books from the library, but this is one that you might need to own, so that you can read it a chapter at a time, dipping in as you feel that you have the time to devote to it.

Dray is telling the story of union organizing from the earliest evidence of such in the United States (way back to Lowell, MA, in the 1700s), and it's a big story. From the beginning, once we start organizing workers into factories, there have been counter organizations of workers against the boss. Dray hits the high points and the low points throughout the 230 odd years of US history, which is why this book is so massive.  He is clearly sympathetic to union organizing, but not blind to the places where unions have been less than fully effectual, and where they have worked at cross-purposes to each other, and where they have actively worked in opposition to the needs and desires of their members.

I teach a section on labor to my US survey course (which is why I picked the book up in the first place), and clearly snippets of this book will filter back into that set of lectures. More interesting, to me, is the way that this book will help to inform my discussion on civil rights - things like sit-ins, like getting arrested so that the jails fill up, things like marching on Washington to affect the policy of government - these all have their roots deep in the labor movement.

So. A very good survey of the labor movement as a whole within the United States. Long, so you'll want to chop it into manageable segments, and a little dry in places. The pictures were ok, but, as always, I found Dray describing something (specifically, the banners carried by Cesar Chavev's United Farm Workers), and there was no picture of that. I understand the desire to include pictures, but there has to be a better way.

Harry Connolly - Game of Cages

This is Connolly's second novel, and also the second book in his "Twenty Palaces" series. Connolly has created a very dark world for his characters to play in. The setting is now, and here, but with magic and outside magical forces/predators who seek to enter our world and eat us. Ray Lilly operates at the very fringes of an organisation, the Twenty Palaces, which is a magical vigilante group which hunts down predators and kills them. And often the folks who summon them. And sometimes the families of the folks who summon them. And sometimes innocent bystanders. Lilly is not sure where he fits into the whole thing - he is a "wooden man," which means his primary purpose is to serve as a distraction so that the big guns can get things done, and it also means that he is entirely expendable, and he knows this to be true. He's not sure how he feels about that. He's got a tiny bit of power in a world with a great deal of power going around, and so he finds himself several steps behind (often) and frequently out-gunned (as it were); he survives largely by luck and quick thinking.

This is dark fantasy, folks, so people get killed, and some of that death is highly unpleasant. At some point, I think Lilly is going to have a significant reaction to this - he gets that the mission of the Twenty Palaces is important - predators, if allowed to roam, would destroy the planet - but I think at some point he's going to question the means by which that mission is undertaken. That will, when we get to it, be a very interesting novel indeed.

Connolly has some very good characters here, and his premise is intriguing. It's a quick read, and entertaining.