Nothin' But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland

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Overview

The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region became the “arsenal of democracy”—the greatest manufacturing center in the world—in the years during and after World War II thanks to natural advantages and a welcoming culture. Decades of unprecedented prosperity followed, memorably punctuated by riots, strikes, burning rivers, and oil embargoes. A vibrant, quintessentially American character bloomed in the region’s cities, suburbs, and backwaters.

But the innovation and industry that ...

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Nothin' but Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland

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Overview

The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region became the “arsenal of democracy”—the greatest manufacturing center in the world—in the years during and after World War II thanks to natural advantages and a welcoming culture. Decades of unprecedented prosperity followed, memorably punctuated by riots, strikes, burning rivers, and oil embargoes. A vibrant, quintessentially American character bloomed in the region’s cities, suburbs, and backwaters.

But the innovation and industry that defined the Rust Belt also helped to hasten its demise. An air conditioner invented in Upstate New York transformed the South from a sweaty backwoods to a nonunionized industrial competitor. Japan and Germany recovered from their defeat to build fuel-efficient cars in the stagnant 1970s. The tentpole factories that paid workers so well also filled the air with soot, and poisoned waters and soil. The jobs drifted elsewhere, and many of the people soon followed suit.

Nothin’ but Blue Skies tells the story of how the country’s industrial heartland grew, boomed, bottomed, and hopes to be reborn. Through a propulsive blend of storytelling and reportage, celebrated writer Edward McClelland delivers the rise, fall, and revival of the Rust Belt and its people.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It is no secret that the area surrounding the Great Lakes, once the beating heart of American manufacturing, has fallen on hard times. A native of Lansing, Mich., home of Oldsmobile, McClelland, author of Young Mr. Obama and The Third Coast, sets out to chart the rise and fall of these towns and the people who call them home. Whether he is talking about Flint, Mich., Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., or Homestead, Pa., he details similar stories: mills started by men like Ford or Carnegie that create jobs, union wars that help workers reach unprecedented middle-class prosperity, market or political changes that create cracks in the business causing it either move, lose market share to international competition, or simply go bankrupt, thereby creating pensioner filled ghost towns devoid of jobs and youth. The stories can be a bit repetitive, but McClelland’s knack for turning a phrase “My last two full-time jobs no longer exist. For a Generation-Xer, tales from the 1960s are employment porn.”) allows him to tie together these auto and steel towns and capture touching, personal tales so as to bring these dying municipalities back to life, if only on the page. Though the bright spots are few and far between, thanks to intervening stories of crime, drugs, and gangs, he tries his best to find tales of hopes, as in the revival of Homestead as a shopping destination or how one can now kayak down Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, once so polluted it would catch on fire. A reservoir of information about American manufacturing, labor unions, and social movements, McClelland’s book, ironically, stands as a testament to the simple truth that one steel worker told him: “You can’t grow an economy without making things, producing stuff.” (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Chicago journalist McClelland (Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President, 2010, etc.) examines the decline of urban industrial centers in the Midwestern United States and portions of the Great Lakes region. A native of Lansing, Mich., one of those declining centers, the author presents impressively reported case studies and anecdotes from such cities as Detroit, Flint, Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago, among others. The closing of factories--those that manufacture automobiles have been the most common--is no secret. Nor is the decline of labor unions, the desperation of the unemployed, the accompanying crime, racial tensions, environmental degradation and the moving of jobs to Mexico and overseas. But McClelland helps to make the old feel new by drawing on a combination of personal contacts, extensive interviewing and acute observation based on showing up and hanging out. Little-known details emerge throughout. How many readers already knew, for example, that Buffalo is the locale of perhaps the first Muslim settlement in the United States? Those Muslims, mostly from the nation of Yemen at first, arrived to take advantage of the attractive jobs in the since-shuttered steel mills. Everywhere throughout the industrialized cities, immigrant tribes gathered to forge steel in the mills and accept other demanding positions in factories, positions numerous American citizens were unwilling to take. But the Rust Belt grew rustier and rustier, as an appellation that formerly denoted pride came to signify poverty and unemployment. Rebirth in some sections of a few of the down-and-out cities seems possible, but mostly, hopelessness is ascendant and elected politicians and their financial supporters show little initiative in assisting the unemployed or underemployed. Though McClelland offers few solutions for industrialized urban centers, his book is admirably long on explanation and empathy.
From the Publisher
"Engagingly written . . . McClelland’s book reminds us of what has transpired in the heart of the country over the past 30 years and of the battering endured by hundreds of thousands of working-class families as global corporatism and federal trade policies gutted the American middle class." —Los Angeles Times

"McClelland is a terrific reporter, smoothly blending facts from the historical record with the bitter, often profane, conversation of the displaced and desperate men and women he meets and his own reflections. These last are often as witty as they are shrewd." —The Washington Post

"[McClelland] is an engaging writer with an ear for local voices. He has a knack for the memorable phrase and often lends a poetic touch to urban affairs . . . By memorializing the best days of American labor, he reminds us of just how much we had. And, of course, how much we lost." —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), Robert Smith

"McClelland brings home the impact of the titanic shift in industry in the last half of the twentieth century…. The result provides an answer for anyone who has ever looked at a shuttered factory and asked, Why?" —Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608195299
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/21/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 194,308
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward McClelland

Edward McClelland is the author of Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President, The Third Coast: Sailors, Strippers, Fisherman, Folksingers, Long-Haired Ojibway Painters, and God-Save-the-Queen Monarchists of the Great Lakes, and Horseplayers: Life at the Track. He has contributed to the New York Times, Playboy, Slate, the Nation, and many other publications. He lives in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

NOTHIN' BUT BLUE SKIES

The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland


By EDWARD MCCLELLAND

BLOOMSBURY PRESS

Copyright © 2013 Edward McClelland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60819-529-9


Excerpt


(Continues...)

Excerpted from NOTHIN' BUT BLUE SKIES by EDWARD MCCLELLAND. Copyright © 2013 by Edward McClelland. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue: Gus's Bar....................     1     

1. The Sit-Down Striker....................     8     

2. The Arsenal of Democracy....................     17     

3. The Motor City Is Burning....................     30     

4. Burn On, Big River....................     44     

5. I'm a Flintoid....................     68     

6. "A Rust Bowl"....................     93     

7. Homestead....................     118     

8. New Jack Cities....................     136     

9. The Smell of Money....................     159     

10. "We're All Going to End up in Chicago"....................     188     

11. "Nature Always Bats Last"....................     204     

12. Lackawanna Blues....................     216     

13. The Second Great Recession....................     230     

14. The Corner of Palmer and Jesus Saves....................     251     

15. Flintstones....................     289     

16. "This Is Not Your Father's Oldsmobile"....................     306     

Acknowledgments....................     327     

Bibliography....................     329     

Index....................     333     


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    If your from the midwest or the great lake region, its a great r

    If your from the midwest or the great lake region, its a great read. Opens your eyes to the way industries ,unions and the government operated in the mid 19th century. Very good book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    Excellent and fascinating a nonfictional book about recent histo

    Excellent and fascinating a nonfictional book about recent history in the auto and steel industries, especially Buffalo, Detroit, Flint, etc. (the rust belt cities). It reminds me of my life, I was born in Detroit, lived there 20 years, near Detroit since then, and my father worked at a Ford car factory. He wrote real people in their lives, not sugar-coated auto industry spokespersons. Maybe sarcasm and cynical his writings but it's true enough.

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