Having borrowed this book twice from the library I have just now decided to buy a copy to keep in my bookshelf. This is an excellent book, and one which owes a good deal to E. P. Thompson's ground-breaking "Making of the English Working Class" in its method of historical analysis. In other words instead of relying on boring statistics and trends to explain the history of the common people it focuses on the people themselves and the actions that they took. This makes it interesting for the reader who is thus able to identify and empathise with the historical figures that Sutton describes. This is history as it should be written, a human story, about ordinary people and their lives, and how they reacted to events that seemed beyond their control.
The book itself examines how craft workers in Baltimore faced the challenges posed by industrial capitalism. How they saw their livelihoods being undermined by its cheap goods and the actions they took in response. In a sense it describes how the true Republic was lost. It also looks at the role that their religion played in that struggle. This is indeed a "peoples' history".
Writing history in this way, Sutton joins other excellent American historians like Ronald Schultz, Sean Wilentz, Bruce Laurie, and the late Christopher Lasch. All of these are well worth reading if you want to know how the common people lived before the crass materialism of modern capitalism stamped itself on American history. This history reconnects one to an older and more just and moral American Republic now sadly lost to corporate greed and warmongering. The American people are indeed well served by historians of this calibre.
I was captivated from the first page to the last. This gripping tale of evangelical artisans struggling to adapt to an emerging capitalist culture while keeping their producerist principles in 19th century Baltimore kept me up way past my bedtime in order to finish it. Even Dr. Sutton's footnotes are well worth reading!