The Real John Henry?

Ain’t Nothing But a Man by Scott Reynolds Nelson is a book that strives to answer a question that I’ve heard over and over as I’ve read John Henry stories to students.  Was John Henry a real person?  Nelson documents the questions he asked himself and the numerous sources that he sought out in his journey to find the answer to this question.  Although this book doesn’t give quite enough information about all of the details that Nelson uncovers, it does lay out how difficult it can be to find the answers to your wonderings.  Nelson had to ask numerous times at libraries for records to be released for him to review.  It seemed that no matter where he turned, he ran into roadblocks in his research.  I loved the realistic description of how fun and challenging research can be.  In the end, Nelson provides substantial evidence to give the answer to his question.  You’ll have to read to find out if John Henry really was a real person.  At the conclusion of the book, Nelson:

  • tells how his research will continue (as all research should)
  • explains what it takes to be a historian with 6 stages of work & descriptions
  • gives suggestions for further reading with descriptions of what each reading contains
  • includes a note about the sources he used
  • includes some information about the different versions of the John Henry son

If you have ever been interested in learning more about John Henry and who he may have been or if you are interested in what it takes to crack open a historical mystery, stop by the media center and check this book out today.

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