Rob Ruck

Rob Ruck is a historian at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches and writes about sport. He focuses on how people use sport to tell a collective story about who they are to themselves and the world. He is the author of Tropic of Football: The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game, and Rooney: A Sporting Life, among other titles. His documentaries Kings on the Hill: Baseball’s Forgotten Men and The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game appeared on PBS.

Pittsburgh Rising

From Frontier Town to Steel City, 1750-1920

Over 170 years, Pittsburgh rose from remote outpost to industrial powerhouse. With the formation of the United States, the frontier town located at the confluence of three rivers grew into the linchpin for trade and migration between established eastern cities and the growing settlements of the Ohio Valley. Resources, geography, innovation, and personalities led to successful glass, iron, and eventually steel operations. As Pittsburgh blossomed into one of the largest cities in the country and became a center of industry, it generated great wealth for industrial and banking leaders. But immigrants and African American migrants, who labored under insecure, poorly paid, and dangerous conditions, did not share in the rewards of growth. Pittsburgh Rising traces the lives of individuals and families who lived and worked in this early industrial city, jammed into unhealthy housing in overcrowded neighborhoods near the mills. Although workers organized labor unions to improve conditions and charitable groups and reform organizations, often helmed by women, mitigated some of the deplorable conditions, authors Muller and Ruck show that divides along class, religious, ethnic, and racial lines weakened the efforts to improve the inequalities of early twentieth-century Pittsburgh—and persist today.

Steve Nelson, American Radical

As the immigrant teenage son of a Croatian miller, Steve Nelson arrived in the United States after World War I and entered a world of chronic unemployment, low wages, dangerous work, and discrimination. Following the path taken by many fellow immigrant workers, he joined the Communist Party. He became a full-time organizer and ultimately a major leader, only to resign in 1957 after unsuccessful attempts to democratize the American party.

This remarkable oral biography, recounted in collaboration with two historians, describes day-to-day life in the party and traces Nelson's career from his beginnings in the Pennsylvania coalfields to his secret work as party courier in the Far East; form the battlefields of Civil War Spain to the jails of Cold War Pittsburgh; and from a small group of Communist autoworkers in Detroit to the upper reaches of a party leadership in New York. It is the frank and analytical account of a leading American working-class activist.