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BookReviews 135 In the book's preface, the authors note that apart from a security review and the removal of a small amount of technically sensitive material, there was no direct interference from the Los Alamos laboratory or the book's sponsors, the Department of Energy, and so, they contend, this is not a "company history." But Critical Assenibly does not manage to shake off all of the usual limits (often self-imposed) of official histories. One example comes from the final section of the book, where we learn of various estimates of the TNT equivalents of the blasts of the bombs and are told that many of the scientists were depressed by the bombings, but the authors dance around the issue of casualties. Hoddeson and her colleagues have, nevertheless, written a notable and richlydetailed work. A number of books have already dealt extensively with wartime Los Alamos. These include, for example, David Hawkins's Project Y: The Los Alamos Story, originally prepared as an official history in 194647 ,but not published until years later, and James W. Kunetka's 1978 City ofFire: Los Alamos and the Aton1ic Age, 1943-1945. Although the prose of Critical Assembly is sometimes murky, its authors go far beyond Hawkins and Kunetka in terms of the depth of their archival research, the historical sophistication of their account, and the quality of the scholarly apparatus they offer. Critical Assembly sets a new standard for writings on wartime Los Alamos. Robert W. Smith Srnithsonian Institution Peter Way. Common Labour: Workers and the Diggingof North American Canals, 1780-1860. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Pp. xvii +304. In 1815, New York city celebrated the completion of the Erie Canal with a hugeparade of the city's numerous craft associations. Labour historians have viewed that pageantry as symbolic of the happy status of artisans in the young republic, but Peter Way probes more deeply. Absent from the 1815 procession, Way points out, were the men who had actually dug the Erie. Such men, mostly unskilled common labourers, were shunned by American society in the nineteenth century and have received precious little attention 136 Canadum Revzew of American Stzu/ies from historians ever since. In Common Labour, Way has rescued from obscurity the legions of forgotten workers who carved the great ditches that were an important aspect of North America's transportation revolution. All sorts of men dug canals. Black slaves, white indentured servants, native-born American farmers, French-Canadian habitants, German immigrants, convicts, and soldiers all took part, but the predominant element overall was the Irishmen who came in their thousands to wield picks and shovels on these great projects. Way describes in rich detail the appalling conditions these men endured on the job. Work days of brutal physical labour lasted twelve or even sixteen hours. Canallers sometimes toiled for months while standing waist deep in muck, and, at other times, had only their shovels to shield themselves from the showers of stones that accompanied blasting. Accidents and disease took a heavy toll. Pay was meagre and was doled out partly in the form of a daily on-the-job ratton of twelve to twenty ounces of alcohol. In the hard times that set in after the Panic of 1837, working conditions became even worse, and wages fell below the level required even for bare subsistence. In their few hours of leisure, canallers struggled against formidable odds to create communities. Evidence on community life is sparse and scattered, but Way has made a remarkable effort to ferret out every surviving scrap of information and to abstract nuggets of truth from the biased observations of canal company officers and outside visitors. For example, a traveller's account allows us to peer into one small shanty where a canaller, his wife, and their children shared a solitary bed, above which were bare planks upon which slept the seven single men who boarded in the household. Such conditions bred much social pathology in the form of drunkenness and violence . Way is unflinching in his portrayal of the canallers' rough existence, but he stresses that there were positive aspects as well, with ethnic and religious organizations providing some social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 135-138
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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