Late last week the eminent labor historian James Green died at age 71. Known most recently for his The Devil Is Here in These Hills, a portrait of West Virginia coal miners that became part of an American Experience documentary, Green changed the field with his pioneering book The World of the Worker. That book remains an essential text in labor history, a social history of twentieth century labor published when that was a bold idea and, as such, a book that opened up areas of inquiry today’s readers and students take for granted.
Historians appreciated Green’s knowledge, analysis, and capacity of research. But Green also had a wider readership, thanks in large part to his wonderful qualities as a writer. His most famous book, Death in the Haymarket, demonstrates how he could meld that gift to the rigorous side of working in academic scholarship, while his Taking History to Heart featured his ability to work his own life story into what he made his life’s work.