Monday, February 20, 2023

The Cold Millions by Jess Walters


Gig and Ryan find themselves riding the rails and living the hobo life.  Gig is in his twenties and responsible for Ryan, sixteen, after the death of their parents.  Gig, a dreamy idealist, is caught up in union activities, appalled at the disparity between the lives of workers and those of the capitalists who grow rich on the work of others.  Ryan just wants a home and people he can love and who love him.

The two find themselves in Spokane, Washington, where even day laborers have to kick back part of their wages to get a job.  When there is a protest, the brothers go and both end up in jail.  Ryan is released fairly quickly due to his age but Gig is imprisoned for weeks.  He comes out a broken man and hits the rails again, leaving Ryan behind.

Ryan isn't sure what he thinks about the union and its activities but he knows he loves Gig and will do anything to get him released.  He finds himself in company with a fiery union activist, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, used by her and the union as an example of what the other side will do even to a child.  He helps Flynn travel and even sneaks out her articles to a newspaper but ultimately decides he wants a steady job.  Along the way, he meets characters such as a bar singer who Gig loves but who is on the take with a local tycoon, detectives who want to bust the union and lawmen who seem to love justice only for the rich.

This book was named a best book of the year by many publications such as Kirkus, NPR, many newspapers and libraries.  It portrays the fight in the early twentieth century between capitalists and union workers when it was a fight just to have a union.  Workers were treated as just another form of capital and little concern was given to their needs.  Life was hard for the many and extravagant for the few who owned the factories and wharves that made the money.  It is based on some true characters such as Flynn.  Readers will learn history along with cheering for Ryan and his hopes for a stable life.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

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