Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: The Growth of an American City by Iric Nathanson

I prefer narrative nonfiction because the characters and setting come alive versus a straight forward presentation of facts that can at times be boring. At times this read like a text book and while the information was good, I didn't think it was organized that well and the first chapter had me confused quite a bit because of my lack of knowledge regarding the structure of government municipalities. I read a link to Wikipedia that cleared up most of my questions regarding mayor-council government. My main confusion was not understanding what made a weak versus strong mayor system. It becomes clear in the chapters that follow as the author digs into the scandals and corruptions involving certain mayors who did nothing to stop illegal prostitution, gambling, and liquor activities.

The first chapter covers charter reform and how the business elite controlled the social and economic patterns in Minneapolis contrasting it to St. Paul where business and labor worked together. The chapters don't follow a chronological order and I found the jumps in time jarring and confusing. My notes says read, "1914 to 1970 to 1948... huh?" I'm not a numbers person so I kept having to go back and reread. By the end of the book it didn't bother me and I was very engaged in the development of downtown Minneapolis's waterfront and the light rail transit. Either I got used to the jumping around or my background knowledge of both projects made those topics easy to follow.

I have always wondered why St. Anthony Main and Riverplace that were so popular in the 1980's went into decline in the 1990's. The author compares the high end condos of Riverplace with the successful Loft apartments by Mill City museum as one reason. In the 2000's St. Anthony Main has been making a bit of a comeback; however, the author doesn't mention this in his 2010 book. The downtown revitalization with the Stone Arch bridge might be a factor but I'm speculating. I suppose that is always a problem with writing a historical book. You can't cover everything (or speculate) and the documentation is labor intensive. The notes section is extensive and the index is dense giving additional resources to dig into topics of interest.

This book touches the surface of major events that caused the city to grow and overall does it well. I learned several tidbits about the city that I didn't know and did learn about the mayor-council government. I would have preferred the book had started with chapter 2 and sprinkled the struggles over government structure within the stories of scandal and bloodshed because then it would have picked the pace up, but I love action so this is more personal taste. At one point I remember thinking... hmmm... what if you wrote a children's book and set it during the height of the milling business when the strikers became violent and killed Arthur Lyman? What if you had a kid who's dad was the salesman for Shell Oil Company like Sam Hynes, who fled for his life when a mob of striking truckers tried to kill him? He was stuck on neutral ground sympathizing with the employers, who he thought had the right to tell people to get back to work while at the same time despising their upper-class arrogance, and with the workers who he thought should be paid more for their work. Next on my list of local books is the one on Minneapolis mobsters. Good stuff.

3 Smileys

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