In spring of 2001, a community of people in the Appalachian foothills came to the edge of all they had ever been. Across the South, padlocks and logging chains bound the doors of silent mills, and it seemed a miracle to blue-collar people in Jacksonville, Alabama, that their mill survived. The century-old hardwood floors still trembled under whirling steel, and people worked on in a mist of white air. The mill had become almost a living thing, rewarding the hard-working and careful with the best payday they ever had, but punishing the careless and clumsy, taking a finger, a hand, more. The mill preceded the automobile, the airplane, and they served it even as it filled their lungs with lint and shortened their lives. In return, it let them live in stiff-necked dignity in the hills of their fathers. In these real-life stories, Rick Bragg brilliantly evokes the hardscrabble lives of those who lived and died by an American cotton mill.