I read the book depicted above last summer. It was a real eye-opener. The Slate article linked below gives a better taste than any review I could write. Here’s the opening of the article, as an excerpt:
In America at the dawn of the 20th century, 25,000 little boys spent 10 hours a day in the living hell known as a coal mine. Charged with pulling detritus out of coal shipments, boys as young as 8 hunched over an ever-flowing stream of minerals, plunging in their hands to pull out slate and other rubbish. Many lost fingers or had limbs torn off by faulty machinery. Some fell down coal chutes and were smothered to death. Most, later in life, experienced horrific medical conditions like black lung. For this work, they were paid 40 cents a day.
Disgusted by these savage working conditions and vexed by individual states’ refusal to take action, Congress passed a law in 1916 that forbade the interstate shipment of any good produced in a factory that employed children under age 14. Conservative activists quickly contrived a lawsuit against the act—and won at the Supreme Court, where five justices declared the child labor law unconstitutional. Although the Constitution explicitly grants Congress the power to regulate commerce between the states, the court explained, Congress here had illegitimately used this power to ban child labor. Why was that exercise of constitutional power illegitimate? Because five justices said so. The law was invalidated, and the 8-year-olds went back to the mines.
That was just a hundred years ago. If I had been born a generation earlier, that could have been my lot! Can you imagine working in a coal mine at age 8? Yet Big Money required it of the children of the poor. And The Supremes said Amen.
Link to article
Link to book