b o o k rev i ews On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in NineteenthCentury America. By Brian P. Luskey. (New York: New York University Press, 2010. Pp. 277. Cloth, $65.00; paper, $25.00.) Brian P. Luskey explores in rich detail the world of clerks working in New York City from 1830 to 1870, the years of that city's rise to national preeminence in business. Clerks were strivers, Luskey writes, eager to move from their entry-level jobs to the higher rungs of mercantile firms by dint of hard work, ambition, and the acquisition of certain markers of the successful self-made man. Luskey uses the term "cultural capital" often, glossed variously as authority, gentility, respectability, status, power, and whiteness. Young men learned to display these assets in order to gain validation from others and confidence in themselves. Luskey also shows the dark side of clerking: low pay, long hours, menial labor, and the ever-present temptations of the city's saloons and brothels that were thought to threaten a clerk's economic and cultural capital. An important claim advanced in the book is that not all clerks chose between the church and the brothel, as moralists of the day sermonized;
The Journal of the Civil War Era – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Aug 29, 2012
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