There aren’t too many things more exhilarating than learning something brand new about a subject you thought you already knew pretty well. That was the case for me when I received a review copy of Archie Green: The Making of a Working-Class Hero, written by Sean Burns and published by the University of Illinois Press.
Though I have a BA in history with an emphasis on progressive social movements, I had never heard of Archie Green before now. I should have. Green, it turns out, was one of the preeminent labor historians in America. It was largely through his efforts that the American Folklife Center was established at the Library of Congress, where many valuable sound recordings, photographs and written accounts help to preserve the record of working people in America. Green wrote several books and (a plethora of book chapters) detailing specific segments of working America, from millwrights in California to an examination of the body of coal-mining songs recorded through the years.
Burns does a fine job of explaining how Green’s career as a laborer and then labor historian and preservationist came about. The text is a bit drier than a standard mainstream biography or “popular” history book, which may scare off non-academics who are otherwise interested in the subject. I would urge them to persevere, because the life that Burns documents in Archie Green is one that more people should know.