- A Conspicuous Life: George B. Christian Sr. and the Rise of Industrial Marion by Joel Miyasaki
Joel Miyasaki’s A Conspicuous Life: George B. Christian Sr. and the Rise of Industrial Marion is a comprehensive biographical examination of prominent Marion, Ohio, citizen George B. Christian Sr. The book traces Christian’s life through the lens of several personal events, from his brief stint as a young Civil War soldier to his time as one of central Ohio’s leading limestone manufacturers. Christian reflected the efforts of most promising industrialists during the late nineteenth century, and was met with both failure and noteworthy (but somewhat fleeting) successes. At the onset of the manufacturing revolution in the United States, towns across post–Civil War Ohio looked toward industry for economic growth. Agriculture, which dominated Ohio’s economy for much of the antebellum period, gave way to mining, iron making, and other forms of manufacturing that gave promise to small towns like Marion. Initially, however, Christian did not capitalize on heavy industry, but rather focused his efforts on numerous endeavors such as working as a real estate agent, a county employee, a bookstore owner, and an art salesman, to name a few. Still, he failed to accumulate much wealth through these short-lived enterprises. Christian then went into journalism as editor of the Marion Democratic Mirror, which reflected Reconstruction era politics and gave him the ability to influence economic growth in Marion. His subsequent transformation into a limestone tycoon solidified his political and social hold on the community, as well as the family’s close relationship with Ohio native and future U.S. president Warren G. Harding, who moved to Marion in 1882. Christian later embraced his role as one of the reviled president’s most vocal “cheerleaders,” stating that Harding’s January 1919 speech regarding U.S. nationalism was “grand, glorious . . . and the trumpet call [End Page 85] of a leader predestined to lead a great people in the ways of truth and righteousness” (237). Miyasaki’s efforts to contextualize Christian’s role in Harding’s ascendency to the presidency is a strong point. Aside from his life in politics and business, Miyasaki also briefly discusses Christian’s recreational activities, such as his trip to the Atlantic coast of central Florida in 1877, prompting a series of travelogues later written in the Marion Star, a failing newspaper purchased and revitalized by Warren G. Harding.
Miyasaki tells Christian’s provocative story in a rather unorthodox but highly effective fashion. Rather than the traditional chronological description of events from birth until death, the author breaks down each chapter thematically and into interconnecting stories. Although this conceptualization of Christian’s life does tend to spur some minor repetition, it gives the reader a more in-depth look at the events that aided in Christian’s ascension into one of Ohio’s leading socialites. Miyasaki is also successful in what he calls a “warts and all portrait” of Christian’s humanity (10). Christian’s own writings have survived in the form of essays, histories, and commentaries (he ultimately failed in writing an autobiography). But rather than “gentrifying” his story, which many turn-of-the-century biographical and historical writings are guilty of, the author appropriately frames Christian’s successes as well as his failures. For example, Miyasaki argues that Christian’s failed campaign for the Ohio state senate in 1897 partly gave rise to Warren G. Harding’s political career. Furthermore, Miyasaki makes excellent use of available resources, which seem to have helped shape his story. They include but are not limited to family letters, Christian’s writings, and newspaper articles. Indeed, the author purposefully uses local newspaper articles to construct several chapters. This is most prevalent in chapter 6, which documents Christian’s rise into a limestone manufacturer as Marion began to develop an industrial presence.
A Conspicuous Life achieves its purpose as a local history designed to shed light on one of Ohio’s underrepresented citizens and...