Craig Heron’s monumental book on working-class life in early twentieth-century Hamilton, Ontario, appears at first glance to be an old-fashioned social history—a community study. It is, in fact, a wonderful analysis of class and its pervasiveness in the lives of real people. It has broad implications for our understanding of the relationship between these lives and the exercise of power in Canada and elsewhere during the industrial era. In a period of increasing scholarly attention to what language and other forms of representation might—or might not—mean, it is a model of empirical research joined to rich political-economic interpretation.

As one might expect in any good community study, Heron describes over time the material world of Hamilton: the structure of capital; the changing character of work, labor markets and unemployment; earnings and living standards; labor organization and strikes; and working-class politics and ideas. But he also analyzes the more intimate dimensions...

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