John Mitchell was a contradictory figure, representing the best and worst labor leadership had to offer at the turn of the century. Articulate, intelligent, and a skillful negotiator, Mitchell made effective use of the press and political opportunities as well as the muscle of his union. He was also manipulative, calculating, tremendously ambitious, and prone to place more trust in the business community than in his own rank and file.
Phelan relates Mitchell's life to many issues currently being debated by labor historians, such as organized labor's search for respectability, its development of a large bureaucracy, its ambiguous relationship to the state, and its suppression of worker input. In addition, he shows how Mitchell's life illuminates broad economic and political developments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Craig Phelan is Assistant Professor of History at King's College. He is the author of William Green: Biography of a Labor Leader, also published by SUNY Press.
"(A) very welcome and impressive biography of John Mitchell. If Mitchell was in danger of becoming one of the forgotten leaders of American labor history, this book will rescue him. ...This clear and readable book. ...casts light on Mitchell's private life too, using a wide range of archival material with deft skill. It deserves, and will surely achieve, a wide and enthusiastic readership. " — Journal of American History
"This is the first comprehensive biography of John Mitchell to be written by a historian. The author has provided an exemplary picture of Mitchell's assiduous efforts to run the United Mine Workers of America effectively and in accordance with his emphasis on a non-syndicalist style of unionism. " — Robert Asher, University of Connecticut
"Phelan paints a balanced portrait of a complex person. The narrative flows nicely, and the author writes with skill and force. " — Joe Gowaskie, Rider College