Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mesabi Pioneers by Jeffrey Smith & Russell Hill

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: May 7, 2015

Here is the highly readable account of one of the remarkable achievements of the 19th century: how a remote tree-covered area of northern Minnesota became America's greatest source of iron ore. It is 1891. An improbable team of American businessmen and European immigrants hunt for iron ore in a formidable expanse of dense pine forest. Fighting isolation, harsh winters, and mosquito-infested summers, they find it. What follows is an extraordinary tale of both personal and technological achievement. Mesabi Pioneer s brings the pursuit of iron ore to vivid life, illuminating the men and women mostly forgotten by history, who built an industry, carved towns from trees, and created a rich culture that lasts to this day.

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Mesabi Pioneers by Jeffrey Smith and Russell Hill was a bit of a one-eighty in my book. I mean no disrespect, but I’m typically drawn to war era stories or biographic fiction set between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance which is why a nineteenth century piece centered in northern Minnesota felt different in my estimation.

For the record, different isn’t a bad thing. Smith and Hill put a lot of wonderful research into this piece, allowing readers insight to a world that strikes a stark contrast to our modern existence. There is an artistic quality to the writing that is also worth noting. The content is interesting in and of itself, but I felt the style and tone of the narrative enhanced the themes and drama of Arthur Maki’s story.

Mesabi Pioneers is unlike anything I usually read, but I found it addicting just the same. A brilliant combination of social and regional history.


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Johnnie turned to Wood. “I hope you learn better to control that tongue of yours. This isn’t your outfit-it’s mine. I say who’s on it and who’s not. If you have a problem with that, then I suggest you go back to Duluth.” He turned back to the Indian who showed the slightest of smiles and watched Wood out of the corner of his eye. Arthur figured Charlie understood more than he let on, and he wondered if the reason the two men continued to speak in Chippewa was only to keep Wood out of the conversation. 
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