Books: They Take Their Lumps


by Alec Wilkinson

Knopf; 263 pages; $18.95

One good way to catch a reader's attention is to start off with a bang. This book does so. Chapter 1, first sentence: "The most perilous work in America is the harvest by hand of sugarcane in South Florida." Holy mackerel, stop the presses! A lot of coal miners will certainly be relieved to learn this, not to mention scads of military test pilots. And just how perilous is this work, which is principally performed by laborers brought in from the Caribbean? An answer is tucked in at the end of a...

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