Jefferson Cowie holds the ILR Dean’s Professor Chair in the Department of Labor Relations, Law, and History at Cornell University. His work in social and political history focuses on how class, inequality, and work shape American politics and culture.
The Nation magazine described Jefferson Cowie as “one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience.” His most recent book, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, draws together labor, politics, and popular culture into a vibrant narrative about the decline of class in American political culture. It received a number of “best book” awards, including two of the profession’s most prestigious: the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize for the Best Book in American History and the Merle Curti Award for the Best Book in Social and Intellectual History.
It does not take long to recognize an excellent book, and this is one. With an innovative and successful mix of labor and business history, economic geography, and gender and community studies, Jefferson Cowie writes a complex story of capital migration, class formation, and social change.”
-Frederico Romero, Journal of American History
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
A conceptually rich and deeply humane book. Jefferson Cowie narrates how industrial workers in two nations and four different communities coped with one company’s relentless search for cheap and pliable labor. He is a rare historian who illuminated the future by explaining a vital part of the past.”
-Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
Rick Perlstein, The Nation
...so fresh, fertile and real that the only thing it resembles is itself...You just have to read it. It establishes its author as one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience....Cowie's accomplishment is to convey what this epic cheat felt like from the inside."
-Rick Perlstein, The Nation
Steven Colatrella, New Politics
As a work of history, [Stayin’ Alive] might be the most groundbreaking and original national history of a working class since E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class....this book is required reading for anyone looking to revive working class hopes and alternatives to America’s disastrous love story with capitalism."
-Steven Colatrella, New Politics
Joan Walsh, Salon.com
If you want to understand how we got here -- how the Democrats' New Deal coalition shattered in the 1970s, and why progressives are still picking the shrapnel out of their political hides -- you must read Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class...." “one of the best books of 2010."
The History of Capitalism Initiative at Cornell, which I launched with two colleagues, is up and running, with a MOOC, a Summer Camp for methods trainings, and a Conference in November for which we received an overwhelming response. It’s pretty exciting, intellectually, to rekindle questions of political economy in history. Labor and working-class historians have been pushing on these issues since the beginning, but I think this HoC effort will broaden working-class history by embedding questions in a wider historiography that is reorienting toward structural issues. We had a wonderful response to our symposium on Thomas Piketty, which you can watch here.
I recently published a review of Jean Christian Vinel’s fascinating new book on The Employee: A Political History for the British Journal Reviews in History, as well as one on Matthew Garcia’s excellent, if disturbing, book on the Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The events for the autoworkers in Chattanooga I found dizzying and said so at POLITICO Magazine. Condescension is a terrible trap in this field, and I may have crossed a line with that piece. One can feel the New Deal slipping away bit by bit every year, and I explored the fate of the Fair Labor Standards Act on the occasion of its 75th birthday for the New York Times in The Future of Fair Labor. Here’s a similar piece for the NYT’s Room for Debate.