Book review: The story of Joe Hill, an Industrial Revolution icon and union activist and songwriter

By Adam Thomas

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 15 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

"THE MAN WHO NEVER DIED: The Life, Times and Legacy, American Labor Icon," by William M. Adler, Bloomsbury, $30, 433 pages (nf)

Author William M. Adler spent more than five years of his life researching the labor icon, Joe Hill. It was very much worth his time. Adler not only writes beautifully about the life and legacy of Hill in "The Man Who Never Died" (Bloomsbury 433 pages), but he includes an incredible amount of detail allowing the reader to fully understand the circumstances surrounding Hill’s murder trial in Salt Lake City in 1914.

Taking place in an era that many may not be fully familiar with, these details bring even the least historically inclined up to speed.

Hill was a laborer originally from Sweden who came to America for more opportunities only to find that the Industrial Revolution had made life in the U.S. more difficult as well. Working long hours for little pay and often getting laid off unfairly led Hill to identify with the Industrial Workers of the World.

As he continued to associate with the union, his talents for music became useful as he wrote songs to spread the word about unfair working conditions and uniting for a greater cause.

Several chapters of the book take place in Salt Lake City, where Hill was later convicted of murder. After traveling around much of Sweden and the United States and even spending a short time in Mexico, Hill found work in Murray. Those familiar with Salt Lake City will be able to picture the surroundings when Adler describes the events of the evening in which a Salt Lake City grocer and his son were shot in their store.

Though the book deals with a murder and subsequent death sentence, there is very little graphic content that would cause a reader to feel uncomfortable. Still, it is best suited for mature audiences because of the historical and factual information that may be difficult for younger teens and children to understand or enjoy.

Those who love history, a little bit of mystery and a beautifully written story that tugs at the heart strings should enjoy “The Man Who Never Died.” It paints a picture of the hardships that were faced during the early years of the 20th century.

What: William Alder presentation, book signing

When: Friday, Oct. 21, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave., Park City

Web: www.utahhumanities.org

What: Panel discussion

When: Saturday, Oct. 22, noon

Where: Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South

Web: www.utahhumanities.org

Adam Thomas lives in Herriman with his wife Kimberly and daughter Olivia.

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