In these real-life stories, Rick Bragg brilliantly evokes the hardscrabble lives of those who live and die by an American cotton mill. In 2001, a community of people in the Appalachian foothills had come to the edge of all they had ever been. Across the South, padlocks and chains bound the doors of silent mills. It seemed a miracle to blue-collar people in Jacksonville, Alabama, that their mill still bit, shook, and roared. 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, or more. 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. This is a mill story, not of bricks, steel, and cotton, but of the people who suffered it in order to live.