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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ain't Nothing But A Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson

A Fascinating Investigation into American History

Published 2008 by National Geographic

Scott Reynolds Nelson went on a search to see if there was a real John Henry that inspired the songs and the legend of the man with the hammer who beat the steam drill in a contest.

John Henry statue near Talcott, West Virginia
First and foremost, this is a book written for children, but it was interesting to this grown up as well. The topic was interesting, the pictures are great - lots of real pictures from the past of men on railroad work crews with their equipment. Nelson goes on to explain how the songs were used by work crews not just for entertainment but to keep time while moving tracks and pounding on spikes. Lastly, he explains, step-by-step how he makes his investigation. This could have been extraordinarily boring, but Nelson keeps it interesting. He actually creates a sense of tension as he tracks down his information.

Nelson does come up with a potential source of the legend, provides a ton of internet resources, including websites to hear versions of the John Henry song and other similar songs, as well as other books. Aronson steps in with a easy-to-read short essay with 6 steps on "How to Be a Historian."

Nice book. Should be in every library.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Ain't Nothing But A Man.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on November 19, 2011.

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