“Forty Gavels: The Life of Reuben Soderstrom and the Illinois AFL-CIO”


Carl W. Soderstrom MD, Robert W. Soderstrom, Chris M. Stevens, Andrew W. Burt
CWS Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9780998257532
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (02/19)

“Forty Gavels: The Life of Reuben Soderstrom and the Illinois AFL-CIO – Volume I, II and III” by Carl W. Soderstrom MD, Robert W. Soderstrom, Chris M. Stevens, Andrew W. Burt, is Reuben Soderstrom’s biography and historical testament on his contributions to the Illinois Labor Movement, which also left its mark at the national level.

It is my opinion, however, that it is much more than that. This 3-volume boxed hardcover book set presents readers with a well-written and documented history of the labor movement of the state of Illinois. It also presents the beginnings of social and civil rights, and women’s movements. Through Reuben Soderstrom’s amazing life readers will live American history from 1860 to 1970. Each Volume presents Soderstrom’s family life in parallel with history and his professional life as he influenced events through his passionate goals within the Labor Movement. His focused persistence and drive to right the wrongs he encountered in his life not only got him to the goals he sets for the state but took him from being part of the child labor force as a child blacksmith to being one of the most important leaders of Illinois and the United States for that matter.

The first Volume (1860- 1930) gives readers a glimpse of Reuben Soderstrom’s background as the second son from Swedish heritage Preacher and farmer John and his younger wife Anna, born in Minnesota in 1888. It continues with his childhood as a blacksmith, young adulthood and his early legislative years. The second volume (1930-1949) presents his struggles and contributions through the Great Depression, WWI and WWII. The third volume (1950-1970) provides readers with the last stage of Soderstrom’s contribution and leadership. This is where all his work through the previous decades materialized as what people in my generation grew up with when it comes to women rights, civil rights, labor laws, social security, etc. It begins with the AFL-CIO merger and his son capturing a legislative seat. It then moves on to his fight for Civil Rights and ends with a farewell to this admirable man who, by following his own life pillars, mounted to be a pillar in history for the United States.

Those who know me are aware of my love for history and biographies, so it is no secret why I picked up this three-volume boxed history piece. As an immigrant and coming from immigrant parents, I love to read about other immigrants who began in poverty and were able to build a life that they are proud of and leave a legacy for their successors. In the case of Reuben Soderstrom, his legacy was left for a nation and even nations. I loved this collection – the way it flowed and was structured to follow the pillars of his life. The pictures and documents presented in the book made everything more real in my mind. I was captivated from the beginning and dreaded to put it down each time life took me away from reading it. As a Political and Administrative Science Graduate, I found it to be a keeper. As a nationalized immigrant of the United States, I found it to be a treasure of information about this amazing nation I chose to belong to so many years ago.

Overall, “Forty Gavels, The Life of Reuben Soderstrom and the Illinois AFL-CIO – Volume I, II and III” by Carl W. Soderstrom MD, Robert W. Soderstrom, Chris M. Stevens, Andrew W. Burt is an impeccable recollection of an American pillar in history. His life is his legacy for all of us; it is informative, and captivating – a jewel for anyone’s library. I recommend it as a Five-Star-Must-Read and a piece of American history to keep. Well done!

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